- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2014


In 1951, St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck let the fans choose the lineups for a game.

In 1972, Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin chose a lineup for a game by picking names out of a hat.

And in 2014, Bryce Harper came off the disabled list and let Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams know what the lineup should be around him before he ever took the field for his return.

Lineup cards are a baseball manager’s game plan, except it is tacked up there for all the world to see, typically 3½ hours before the game is even played. It’s the twin document, along with the box score, of the daily tradition of baseball, year in and year out.

It’s even part of the pre-game ceremony, as managers, or their chosen coaches, meet at home plate with umpires before the game to exchange lineup cards.

Opposing managers might want to be careful handling the Nationals lineup cards — they could be bloody.

Welcome to the Nationals 2014 version of The Shutdown — “The Lineup” — a daily drama of who plays where, when and why.

Lineups are sometimes “shook up,” but not often on a daily basis. But with the return of Harper from the disabled list, it leaves nine starters for eight positions, meaning one guy who is used to playing every day doesn’t get to play.

Monday night it was second baseman Danny Espinosa, as Ryan Zimmerman moved from left field back to third base and Anthony Rendon moved from third to second, all to make room for Harper — who had a different idea of who should be playing.

“I think he [Zimmerman] should be playing left,” Harper told reporters. “Rendon’s a good third baseman. He should be playing third. We’ve got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa. Of course, we want the best-hitting lineup in there. I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team. I think that should be what’s happening.”

That guy you see jumping up and down in center field, yelling, “Pick me, pick me,” is Denard Span, the odd man out in Harper’s lineup.

Williams did the best he could for the first day of “The Lineup” to downplay the impact of what would happen moving forward.

“I have to look at it as what are we going to do tonight to win this game,” Williams said. “That’s the most important thing. That’s what’s on my mind. So does that mean that one night Zimmerman plays first and the next night he plays left and the next night he plays third? Or Harper plays right? What is it? If I had that crystal ball, man, it’d be great. But I don’t have one.”

Players who are used to playing every day aren’t crazy about going to the ballpark and looking to see if they are in the lineup that day. Williams said he will have to communicate to players, such as Harper, perhaps the day before he might plan to use his managing consultant in center field one night. “That communication happens every day,” he said. “It’s nothing different than what goes on normally.”

No, no, Matt. This is not normal. We’re not talking about platooning players. We’re talking about veterans who are used to playing every day now wondering about their place in the lineup every day — Zimmerman, Espinosa, Harper, Span, Rendon, and Adam LaRoche.

Here is how this is going to go — every day Williams will post “The Lineup,” most likely before the clubhouse is open to the media. Then, when the doors open, reporters will see who is the starter not starting that night, go to that player, and ask for their thoughts on riding the bench for that game. If he is Zimmerman, the good soldier in all of this, he will likely take it in stride. If it is Harper

Then reporters will go to Williams and ask for his thoughts on why, on that particular day, he decided to sit one starting position player over another — and perhaps ask him for his reaction to what that starter may have told reporters when he found out he wasn’t playing.

By September, he may be pulling names out of a hat.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

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