The Nationals had moved just three runners into scoring position by the time Danny Espinosa doubled in the seventh inning of the Nationals’ 2-0 Opening Day loss to the Braves.
Ivan Rodriguez promptly grounded out to first base and manager Jim Riggleman was faced with the pitcher’s spot in the batting order with the potential tying run in whomever he sent to the plate.
First Jerry Hairston Jr. came out, but Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez countered by replacing left-hander Eric O’Flaherty with right-hander Peter Moylan.
So Riggleman called Hairston back and sent out Laynce Nix.
The question was posed in the pressbox — and I’m sure in many living rooms in the MASN broadcast sector: Why not use Matt Stairs here?
Stairs, of course, is the all-time major league leader in pinch-hit home runs and arguably the better option in that situation and on the Nationals’ left-handed heavy bench.
But Riggleman feared Stairs would be such a good option that the Braves would opt to pitch around him, walk him to face Ian Desmond at the top of the Nationals’ lineup, and Riggleman didn’t want the right-handed Desmond to have to face Moylan, who has held right-handers to a .211 batting average over his career.
“That was a tough call,” Riggleman said. “I really felt that if I put Stairs up there they wouldn’t let him really hit that they’d dance around him and then we’d end up with Moylan… going against Desi there. I had a lot of confidence that Laynce would get him but they made good pitches.”
Nix struck out to end the inning and the Nationals last chance to score on Opening Day. The next six batters went down in order to end the game.
It’s an interesting situation. Say they had walked Stairs and Desmond came up with two men on. Desmond hit .275 with 53 RBI with runners in scoring position last year and he drove in almost half of his RBIs when there were two outs. He’d also be turning over the Nationals lineup and, potentially bringing up Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman behind him.
Desmond also very easily could have struck out, which he did twice Thursday, or grounded out, which he also did twice as part of an 0-for-4 afternoon.