Werth will bat second for Nationals

Werth will bat second for Nationals
March 24, 2011, 9:46 pm
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Thursday, March 24, 2011, 5:45 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
Nationals Insider
CSNwashington.com

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jayson Werth may be the highest-paid player on the Washington Nationals roster this season, but he there's a good chance he won't lead the team in RBIs after manager Jim Riggleman revealed plans Thursday to bat the 126 million right fielder second in his nightly lineup.

"I think it probably, in a perfect world, sets our club up best," Riggleman said before the Nationals' exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers, with Werth batting second for the first time this spring.

Werth has some prior experience in the 2-hole -- 94 career starts -- but most figured he'd bat anywhere from third to fifth upon signing his mega contract with the Nationals in December.

Riggleman, though, had been thinking about doing this over the winter, and Werth himself expressed a preference to bat second, citing his propensity to reach base at a high rate. (He owns a career .367 on-base percentage.)

After using Werth mostly in the 3-spot through the first month of spring training, Riggleman decided to make the switch now after meeting with general manager Mike Rizzo and hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

"It's one of those things where you're feeling like that's probably the best way to go, and then everybody kind of rallied around it: Mike, Eckstein, Werth himself," Riggleman said. "It just seems like there's a lot of opinions that are saying that's the way to go."

Werth will be followed in the lineup by Ryan Zimmerman (who plans to return Friday from a minor groin injury), with Adam LaRoche hitting fourth and Michael Morse fifth.

The Nationals haven't yet decided who will bat leadoff in front of Werth. If Nyjer Morgan wins the center field job, he'll hit first. If Rick Ankiel wins the job, shortstop Ian Desmond would likely slide up to the leadoff spot with Ankiel hitting sixth ahead of second baseman Danny Espinosa and catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

In other Nationals news Thursday:

The order of the starting rotation to begin the season is almost set. Livan Hernandez will pitch Opening Day against the Atlanta Braves. Jason Marquis will be the fourth starter, with Tom Gorzelanny fifth. The only remaining question is how to line up Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan in the 2 and 3 spots. Chad Gaudin, who has pitched this spring as a starter, is being moved to the bullpen and is likely to make the 25-man roster as a long reliever.

Reliever Henry Rodriguez, who has not pitched since March 17, has complained of neck spasms. He was treated by a doctor and is feeling better, but he almost certainly doesn't have enough time to build his arm strength back up and appear in a game before the Grapefruit League ends Tuesday. Thus, Rodriguez (who is out of options and can't be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers) is expected to begin the year on the disabled list.

With Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez (shoulder soreness) probably going to the DL, Gaudin making the club and Craig Stammen optioned to Class AAA Syracuse, the final spot in the Nationals' bullpen will go to either Collin Balester or Brian Broderick.

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