The Washington Times - August 18, 2012, 06:21PM

Little about Jayson Werth looks like a traditional leadoff hitter, from his 6-foot-4 frame to four seasons of 20 or more home runs. But the Nationals’ meandering quest for stability in the top spot of the lineup has returned to him.

Last August, after the Nationals tried eight men in the spot Johnson admitted: “We don’t really have the prototype leadoff guy.”


That included Werth. Before Jim Riggleman quit, he handed Werth 49 at-bats in the spot last June in a desperate move to spark the team with baseball’s worst on-base percentage. Werth responded with a “whatever” and proceeded to hit .163 with eight walks from the spot before shifting down in the lineup. When Johnson took over, he didn’t use Werth there. The experiment seemed dead and forgotten.

That led to an unusual about-face for manager and player.

As Werth healed from a broken wrist suffered in May, he asked Johnson where he’d hit after returning. Johnson suggested leadoff, a move that pleased Werth. An enthusiastic “great” replaced 2011’s “whatever.”

Before Saturday’s game, Johnson expounded at length on Werth’s qualities in the leadoff spot, almost a year to the day after Johnson explained why his roster didn’t contain a leadoff man, as Werth hit there for the third time since coming off the disabled list. This appears to be Werth’s home for the foreseeable future.

“His approach to each at-bat is more in line with a leadoff hitter,” Johnson said.

Werth’s attentiveness to the intricacies of the game impressed Johnson, along with his restraint to not try and drive each pitch toward the Red Porch at Nationals Park, despite power to do so.

Johnson likes leadoff men who don’t hit left-handed (Werth bats right) and, of course, frequently reach base (Johnson views Werth as the Nationals’ best on-base percentage man). Werth is also patient. In 41 games this season, he’s averaged 4.31 pitches per plate appearance, a hair behind 2011’s 4.37 pitches. If Werth played a full season, he’d be tied for third in baseball behind Adam Dunn (4.41) and Curtis Granderson (4.35).

The next-closest member of the Nationals is Adam LaRoche, at 4.07 pitches per plate appearance.

Werth has four hits in the new spot so far. We’ll see how long the experiment continues.

— Bryce Harper gets the night off to rest and get Tyler Moore at-bats. As Johnson likes to point out, the roster has 25 men who need to play. That doesn’t mean Harper, who reached base three times Friday night, enjoys taking a break.

“I’ve already got one guy wanting to choke me to death,” Johnson said, referring to Harper.

Does Harper understand the need to take a day off?

“No,” Johnson said.

— Two starts removed from coming off the 15-day disabled list, shortstop Ian Desmond will get Sunday off out of an abundance of caution as he returns from the left oblique strain that cost him 25 games. The Nationals will revert their “pre-Desmond” infield of Danny Espinosa at shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi at second.

— Johnson wouldn’t rule out calling up prospect Anthony Rendon from Double-A Harrisburg when rosters expand in September. Rendon’s transition to Harrisburg hasn’t been easy, as he’s gone 2-for-17 in his first four games.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

New York Mets
Ruben Tejada, SS
Mike Baxter, RF
David Wright, 3B
Ike Davis, 1B
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Jordany Valdespin, LF
Andres Torres, CF
Josh Thole, C
Jon Niese, LHP

Washington Nationals
Jayson Werth, CF
Danny Espinosa, 2B
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
Michael Morse, RF
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Ian Desmond, SS
Tyler Moore, LF
Jesus Flores, C
Edwin Jackson, RHP