The Washington Times - March 17, 2011, 05:01PM

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Ian Desmond is batting leadoff tonight and Rick Ankiel, batting second, is playing center field.

Get used to it. If Ankiel wins the center field job over likely leadoff hitters Nyjer Morgan or Roger Bernadina, Desmond could be seeing a lot more time there.

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“Desmond would be a strong candidate to do that,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said before the Nationals 6:05 p.m. game with the Braves. “That’s one of the considerations we have to make if anybody other than Njyer is the center fielder, who’s going to lead off?”

Desmond has started just two games at leadoff during his major league career, hitting primarily in the second, seventh and eighth slots. He’s 1-for-6 in those opportunities.

But as the hitter leading off an inning, Desmond actually has very good numbers. In 127 plate appearances he’s 35-for-118, a .297 average with a .346 on-base percentage and an .838 OPS. He’s hit five homers in that situation, along with eight doubles, and scored 21 runs.

“He’s certainly not your prototypical leadoff hitter,” Riggleman said. “If he’s hitting leadoff we certainly won’t ask him to change his game. We’d rather have it be more that he’s just leading off an inning… We’re not looking for him to go up and take pitches or give information to other guys on the club after that first at-bat. We would just let him play and see what happens.”

Desmond’s best numbers come in the No. 2 slot in the lineup, where he’s played 55 games. When batting second, he’s hit .321 with four homers and 19 RBI.

Desmond is a career .270 hitter who figures to get better his second time through a full major league season. It will be interesting to see how the center field battle affects his spot in the lineup from here on out.