HOUSTON — Watching Laynce Nix bounce a two-run single over the head of Houston Astros first baseman Carlos Lee on Monday night, it was hard to believe the slugging left fielder was close to being left off the Nationals’ Opening Day roster.
Nearly four months removed from when Washington opted to go with the veteran over Roger Bernadina to start the season, Nix is a stalwart in the lineup. Performing exceptionally well in a bench role translated into winning the every-day job in left.
His numbers since then (.273, 12 HR, 35 RBI ) may well earn Nix his first major league free agent contract. And there’s no reason it won’t be with the Nationals, who are thrilled with what he’s provided.
“It’d mean a lot,” Nix said of possibly signing a major league deal. “I have a lot of time [in the big leagues] and I believe in myself. I’d like for someone else to as well. The only thing I can do about that is just go play hard every day and make things happen.”
Nix, a Texas native, was drafted by the Rangers in 2000 and came up through their system. He played in 240 games with Texas over the course of four seasons, hitting .241 with 28 home runs. In 2006, Nix was part of a deadline deal that sent him to Milwaukee with Francisco Cordero and Kevin Mench, along with minor leaguer Julian Cordero, for Nelson Cruz and Carlos Lee. He played in just 20 big-league games from 2006-2008 with the Brewers.
Since then, it’s been a steady diet of minor league deals for Nix, who signed two with Cincinnati in 2009 and 2010. He had a bench role with the Reds, hitting .257 with 19 homers and 64 RBI during his time there - including a .291 average in 2010.
Still, February rolled around and Nix found himself without a team. The Nationals came calling Feb. 3, and Nix has paid dividends since.
“I really like him,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who managed his brother Jayson with Team USA. “Great makeup, gamer, loves to be in late in a ballgame and it’s nice to have. He’s gotten a lot of big hits for us.”
According to Nix, the Nationals have not approached him about an extension or even a one-year deal to bring him back for next season but they’ve given him indications that they’re open to the idea.
“I’ve gotten a good feeling from [general manager Mike Rizzo],” Nix said. “I think they like me here, and I feel like it’s a good fit and a good situation. We haven’t exactly spoken about it. I think it’s sort of understood [that both sides are happy], but you never really know.”
Seven of Nix’s 12 home runs have come in either a tie game or a late and close situation - defined as plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the team tied, ahead by one or with the tying run on deck.
As the Nationals dealt with the losses of first baseman Adam LaRoche and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and as right fielder Jayson Werth continues to struggle, Nix’s contributions have been paramount to them being .500 in late July. The only question now is if it will lead to more.
“The way I’ve always gone about it is I’ve just done the work,” Nix said. “Just take care of first things first and do it on the field. I’ve always felt like things would fall into place if I go about it that way. I’m not changing anything now.
“I don’t know what the situation’s going to be for me but I just think if I continue to work and play well, it’ll work out the way it should… As far as being here, I’ve really enjoyed it here and wouldn’t mind staying here so we’ll see where that leads.”