SAN DIEGO — With the worst leadoff on-base percentage in the major leagues, the Nationals offense — and their lineup — are prime for a shakeup if they’re ever going to click the way they’ve promised they could.
That change came Saturday afternoon when Nationals manager Jim Riggleman unveiled a lineup that featured right fielder Jayson Werth hitting leadoff and the pitcher, John Lannan, batting eighth with Roger Bernadina behind him in the ninth spot.
“We just haven’t got it done offensively yet,” Riggleman said. “We’re scrambling trying to find something that will work.
“We’ve been thinking for a while about maybe having Jayson lead off. Really, the only guy who’s got a good on-base percentage is Jayson. Somebody in the one or two spot has got to get on-base for us. Jayson has talked about it in recent days. We’ve tossed it around in the coaches room. It’s just kind of been hanging there. We just have not been a successful offensive ballclub to this point. So we’ve got to try something.”
While the lineup was certainly a different one, there were several factors that played into the decision to shake things up. First is Werth’s high on-base percentage. He has the second-highest OBP on the team, behind Michael Morse, and the Nationals leadoff hitters this season have a .267 on-base percentage.
Second, by hitting Bernadina ninth the Nationals keep his running game intact (which they would have killed had they hit him eighth) and allow that if the pitcher does make the final out of the inning, they’ve still got Bernadina coming up as a second leadoff man of sorts.
While Lannan is easily the team’s worst hitting pitcher (with a career .087 average and no hits in 23 at-bats this season) that also played into the decision to make this change today.
“It’s probably better that it’s this way,” Riggleman said. “Our best hitting pitcher is Marquis. Then it could be perceived by some of our hitters as, ‘Oh, you think this guy is a better hitter than me.’ So it has nothing to do with it. The quality of the pitcher, the way he swings the bat, is not really in the equation at all. It’s more about as the lineup turns over, maybe having somebody on-base in front of Jayson.”
Most players, when asked, said they liked the new-look lineup — though the consensus was that they’d make a final decision on their opinions until after they win with it. It also featured Danny Espinosa batting third, something Riggleman feels he’s ready to do against left-handed pitchers as a polished right-handed batter.
As for the two main batters involved, none seemed too conflicted over the decision.
“Whatever,” Werth said with a shoulder shrug. “Nothing really changes except I’m leading off the game.”
“I just go with the flow,” Bernadina said. “For me, it doesn’t matter where I’m hitting. Whatever can help the ballclub.”
Riggleman did not say whether he’d go with this lineup for more than one game. While he favored the lineup against a left-handed pitcher, it’d be “a little harder to put it together against a right-hander. Against a left-hander I actually kind of like this lineup. Those first four or five hitters we have against a left-handed pitcher, I think, can be very potent.”
When Ryan Zimmerman does return to the active roster — which could be as soon as Tuesday — he may have to reconsider and slide Werth back into the No. 2 spot where he began hitting this season. Then the leadoff spot would go back to being anyone’s game.