MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Ian Desmond walked into the visitors clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium this afternoon and was just as surprised as anyone to see his name back at the leadoff spot in the lineup.
One day after Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said he was planning to drop the shortstop — who has gone 0-for-13 to start the season — to seventh in the order and give second baseman Danny Espinosa a chance to bat leadoff, the manager reversed course and stuck with Desmond.
“I just changed my mind, basically, is what it comes down to,” Riggleman said. “I can give you a lot of explanations but unless I just really felt real strong about changing them, I just decided not to.”
Espinosa, on the other hand, said he was not at all surprised to see his name in the seventh slot. Riggleman had not specifically told the second baseman he’d be hitting leadoff.
“Nobody told me I was doing anything like that,” Espinosa said. “None of the coaches even mentioned it.”
Espinosa got limited time at the leadoff spot in the big leagues last September and was the leadoff hitter for Double-A Harrisburg for about a month, he said, in mid-summer last year. In 18 games there in the major leagues, Espinosa hit .151 (11-for-73) with a double, a triple and three home runs but felt that the pressure of his first experiences in the big leagues may have played a part in his low average.
“I’m fine with (hitting leadoff),” he said. “I think the only reason I struggled last year was because everything was new. I put a lot of pressure on myself and everything else just being up in September but I think I can handle it.”
The truth of the matter is that the Nationals, as they’ve said repeatedly, don’t have a typical leadoff hitter. Desmond really fits better in the second or seventh spots and Espinosa has decent pop so he’s likely better suited for the sixth or seventh spots in the lineup.
That being said, Desmond isn’t going to go hitless forever and if his 0-for-13 skid was happening in June it’d be less noticeable. Riggleman believes, however, that Desmond can handle both the weight of being hitless and the pressure of the leadoff spot.
“He’s such a mentally tough kid that he’s fine with it,” Riggleman said. “And we feel like this is where he can help us the most right now, so that’s where we’ll leave it.”
Riggleman also added that, ideally, the team would like to move Werth out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup so that he’s able to drive in more runs but until they find better options at leadoff and No. 2, this is the way they’ll go.
— Riggleman said that Drew Storen, who threw 36 pitches last night, will most likely be unavailable tonight and they’ll try to stay away from using Tyler Clippard as well. All of the other relievers should be available.
— Be sure to check washingtontimes.com in a bit later for a story about Adam LaRoche and how he’s working through the slight tear in the labrum of his throwing shoulder.