Nats can't find combination to drive in runs

Nats can't find combination to drive in runs
April 6, 2011, 10:06 pm
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 6:23 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
Nationals Insider
CSNwashington.com

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MIAMI -- Jim Riggleman intended to swap Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa in his lineup for Wednesday night's game, moving Espinosa into the leadoff spot and sliding the slumping Desmond down to the 7-hole.

On second thought, though, the Washington Nationals managed decided to keep things as they were for the season's fifth game Wednesday against the Florida Marlins. Desmond, despite his 0-for-13 start to the year, remained at the top of the lineup.

"As I thought about it coming in today, I thought: 'You know, I'm just going to stick with it the way it is and let it ride out,'" Riggleman said. "I talked to a couple coaches about it. They all felt the same way. They'd all rather see Desi there."

Riggleman left open the possibility of a change at some point, but really the manager doesn't have many viable alternatives to lead off. Jerry Hairston got the nod Tuesday night and went 0-for-4, though he did draw a walk in the eighth inning (the first time in 18 plate appearances this season a Nationals leadoff man reached base). And Espinosa, though he has some experience leading off in the minor leagues, hasn't shown team officials he's up to the challenge.

"I know he did it in the minor leagues, but it's not jumping out to us that he's a leadoff hitter," Riggleman said. "If somebody jumped out at us as a leadoff hitter, we would lean more toward that."

The Nationals desperately need someone at the top of the lineup to start getting on base, because their top two hitters (Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman) aren't getting many opportunities to drive in runs.

Through the season's first four games, Zimmerman came up to bat only three times with a man in scoring position (he picked up his lone RBI on an infield single Saturday). Werth, meanwhile, has only two plate appearances with a runner in scoring position, and he entered Wednesday's game still searching for his first RBI in a Washington uniform.

Such is the downside to having Werth bat second, especially in a lineup lacking a true leadoff man. The Nationals would like to get into a situation where they could afford to bump Werth down to the No. 3 or cleanup spot. To date, they don't feel like they can.

"I'd like to see him come up with men on base," Riggleman said. "But right now, if I was hitting someone else 1 and 2, we're not seeing where that's going to play out that way yet. It will, but it's just the way it's gone so far."

The Nationals as a team have been abysmal at driving in runs so far this season. Collectively, they entered Wednesday with a .121 average (4-for-33) with runners in scoring position. With less than two outs, they were 0-for-13.

The main culprits have been the three guys hitting behind Werth and Zimmerman. Cleanup man Adam LaRoche, No. 5 hitter Michael Morse and No. 6 hitter Rick Ankiel entered Wednesday a combined 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

Mark Zuckerman also blogs about the Nationals at natsinsider.com. Contact him at mzuckerman@comcastsportsnet.com and on Twitter @MarkZuckerman.