BALTIMORE — The Nationals get the luxury of a designated hitter this weekend as they open Interleague play in an American League park against the Baltimore Orioles. Tonight, with Jason Marquis on the mound, that may not seem like such a great idea (Marquis has one of the team’s best averages) but the Nationals don’t plan to waste the opportunity to get someone a few extra at-bats.
The most likely candidate for those at-bats will be Matt Stairs, especially with the Nationals facing three right-handed pitchers in a row in Jake Arrieta, Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman.
For Stairs, who will be the first to admit (like many of his teammates) he hasn’t gotten off to the start he’d like, is in a precarious position when it comes to breaking out. Unlike most, Stairs routinely goes three and four days between plate appearances making rhythm difficult to find.
For that reason — along with his extensive experience at the position (1,685 plate appearances, 1,459 ABs) — Stairs relishes the potential opportunity.
“I think if you ask anybody, when you get a chance to have four at-bats in the game, you see more pitches, you feel more comfortable,” Stairs said. “It’s a good way to find your swing. Pinch hitting, if you lose your swing, it’s gone for a while. It’s very hard to find, so if I play the next three games and I get a chance to get 15 at-bats, it’d be awesome.
“As far as DH-ing, I take DH-ing as a pinch-hit at-bat style. I love DH-ing. Love it… I take the same approach to DH-ing as I do to pinch hitting. I sit and watch the game and when it’s time to go hit, I hit.”
In his career, Stairs has a .259 average, .353 on-base percentage and .446 slugging. He’s hit 62 home runs, walked 205 times and driven in 249 runs as a designated hitter. While he’s opened the season 2-for-22 in almost exclusively pinch-hit appearances, there’s no telling what a weekend of consistent at-bats could do to jump start him at the plate.
“When you start off the season 2-for-22 or whatever it is, you go 2-for-3 or 3-for-3 and you’re hitting .250,” Stairs said. “I think what it does, when you get three games in a row, it’s going to help you, for example, the next week when the Padres come in and when we’re at home against those guys, to see pitches and recognize better pitches.”
The Nationals’ main other candidate to DH would be Michael Morse, but here’s a look at the players on their roster who’ve filled the role before and how they’ve done:
BATTER AB R H HR RBI AVG
Matt Stairs 1,459 209 378 62 249 .259
Ivan Rodriguez 217 30 66 5 21 .304
Jerry Hairston 100 17 28 0 13 .280
Michael Morse 41 6 11 0 6 .268
Adam LaRoche 16 3 3 1 2 .188
Alex Cora 3 0 0 0 0 .000
Jayson Werth 2 3 1 0 2 .500
Laynce Nix 0 1 0 0 0 .000