The Washington Times - July 9, 2013, 06:05PM

PHILADELPHIA — When the Washington Nationals acquired Scott Hairston late Sunday night to help bolster their bench, the timing of it was deliberate. Hairston has hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career and the Nationals were getting set to face three straight left-handed starters. 

His numbers against the Phillies, and particularly Cole Hamels, were also too gaudy to ignore.


So when manager Davey Johnson sat down to write out his lineup Tuesday afternoon, he looked at Hairston’s career mark of 12-for-30 with five doubles, five homers and three walks against Hamels and decided to put him right at the top.

It is the first time Hairston has hit in the leadoff spot since August 2011, and it was a calculated decision.

“Pitch around this guy,” Johnson said of the message he was trying to send Hamels by batting Hairston first. “The other guys can hit behind him, too.”

Hairston’s career numbers out of the leadoff spot are decent. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hairston is a .284 hitter with 26 doubles, 43 RBI, 64 runs scored and a .339 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter.

He said he didn’t plan to change his approach based on his position in the lineup, and he didn’t have much of an explanation for why he’s been able to have such success against Hamels in his career.

“I think for the most part, I was able to see the ball off him well in the past,” Hairston said. “He’s a really good pitcher, has really good stuff. Maybe I caught him at a bad time where he wasn’t pitching as well as he does against other guys. But I really don’t know what else to say, I just try to have the same approach against anyone I’m facing.”

“Each day is different, and he might pitch me differently than he’s ever pitched me tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I just try to put myself in a situation where I get into a good hitter’s count. I’ve just got to see what he’s working with. I saw video of his last start and it seemed like his changeup was working really well. Tonight might be different than his last start. Baseball is a cat-and-mouse game.”

With Hairston in the lineup, Johnson shifted Bryce Harper to center field for his first start there since last year’s playoffs and he gave Denard Span a day off.

In his career Span has been a consistent hitter against right-handed pitching and left, but this season his numbers against left-handers have dropped off dramatically.

A career .278 hitter with a .358 OBP and .373 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching, this season Span is hitting .154/.222/.176.

That stands in stark contrast to the work he’s done against right-handers this year, who he’s hit at a .305/.355/.427 clip. 

Those struggles played into Johnson’s decision to put Hairston in the lineup, and who to put him in for, as did the idea he feels it will put in the minds of the rest of the league now that the Nationals have a right-handed bat like Hairston’s on their bench.

“I think (Span will) come out of it, but also I think it will send a message around the league that I will use Hairston in his spot,” Johnson said.

“It causes some problems for the other managers. When they go to their bullpen in a lefty situation, Icould use Hairston. That prevents them from doing that and enables Spanny to hit. So it just opens up more options and creates matchup problems for the other managers. It’s good. It’s all good.”