The Washington Times - April 15, 2011, 06:45PM

After the Nationals’ 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday night, shortstop Ian Desmond voiced his frustrations about the Nationals anemic offense.

Desmond, who was part of a top four in the lineup that combined to go 0-for-15 on the night, admitted – somewhat self-depricatingly – that it would help if the leadoff hitter would get on base.

SEE RELATED:


Desmond was talking about himself, mired in an 0-for-25 slump inside Nationals Park this season. But Friday afternoon manager Jim Riggleman tried to make it easier for Desmond to do just that by taking some of the pressure of the leadoff spot off of the shortstop – dropping him to seventh in the order and moving second baseman Danny Espinosa there for the first time this season.

“I just really want to let the attention get off Desi in that spot,” Riggleman said. “Let him settle in a little bit deeper in the lineup and take some of that off him.”

It was the first time this season that both Desmond and Espinosa had been in the Nationals lineup where Desmond wasn’t the team’s leadoff hitter. And while it may not be a ringing endorsement to drop him, the facts remain that Desmond is hitting .180 on the season with a .212 on-base percentage. While he tries to figure some things out at the plate, Espinosa will get a chance to take his .281 average and .405 OBP into the role.

Desmond will still be able to display any adjustments or progress he makes, it’ll just be from lower in the lineup.

“My swing just hasn’t felt good,” Desmond said. “I felt good for a couple of days in Florida and then in New York I was battling a little towards the end. It’s not the leadoff spot. It’s just my swing. I felt better (Friday during batting practice) and I feel like I figured a couple of things out so we’ll see what happens.

“They’ve been giving me pitches to hit. That’s the frustrating part. I was swinging at strikes, I just wasn’t hitting them. I’ve got to make some adjustments. I think I did and we’ll see (Friday night).”

Espinosa has been hitting well, mainly from the seventh spot, early in his rookie season in the major leagues. But the pure numbers may not be all that went into the decision. The Nationals were preparing to face Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Chris Narveson, who had yet to allow an earned run on the season coming in to Friday’s game.

Espinosa, a switch hitter, has done significantly better against left-handers this season, hitting .400 against them, and all of his extra-base hits have come off left-handers. The second baseman politely declined to comment on his new spot in the lineup, preferring not to shine a spotlight on the switch.

“I would prefer to have him hit higher in the lineup (more) against a left-handed pitcher,” Riggleman said. “That’s not to say he won’t do that against righties. We’re just looking at today, not worrying about tomorrow. We’re just looking at today and he’s leading off.”

So much is made of movement in the Nationals lineup as different players attempt to work out of some early-season struggles and, while Riggleman said he’d prefer not to have different players rotating in and out of the leadoff spot on a daily basis, Jerry Hairston Jr. could still see some time there and the Nationals have given some thought to running Espinosa and Desmond out in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the lineup, whichever order they’d be in.

The cause for panic has not yet materialized, though, and as long as both middle infielders continue to deliver in the field that panic may never arrive.

“Desi and Danny both are going to be mainstays on this ballclub and in this lineup because of their gloves,” Riggleman said. “Their offensive part of their game is going to be something that we’re going to grow to appreciate as they go along… The talent defensively is going to be what solidifies them… Where they hit in the lineup and how they do, it’s a big deal for people, but it’s less of a deal for me than how they do defensively.”

 – Wilson Ramos was back in the Nationals lineup on Friday for the second consecutive day, the first back-to-back starts the catcher has made. The Nationals are planning to play Ramos whenever they face left-handed pitching, but have not yet shifted to him as the team’s everyday catcher with Ivan Rodriguez as a full-time backup.

“We’re never going to get to the point where Pudge is not getting a significant amount of time,” Riggleman said. “Basically I want (Ramos) in there pretty much any time a left-hander is pitching.”

– The Nationals, along with all of Major League Baseball, honored Jackie Robinson Friday night with all uniformed personnel donning Robinson’s No. 42.