After hitting second for most of last season, Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth was expected to move down the batting order after the acquisition of Adam Eaton. Will he remain at the top of the lineup?
One of the most widely discussed topics surrounding the Washington Nationals this offseason has surrounded how manager Dusty Baker is going to set his lineup come Opening Day. At this point, nothing appears to be set in stone. Baker has stated that he has yet to decide exactly how he’s going to organize the top of the order.
Based on early Spring Training trends, there’s an unexpected name in the mix for the number two spot. Jayson Werth, who occupied the role for a majority of last season, was expected to be bumped down to at least sixth once the team traded for Adam Eaton. Eaton has been a leadoff hitter for the majority of his career, prompting most to assume him and the speedy Trea Turner would be occupying the top two spots.
So far this preseason, however, Baker’s been slotting Werth in the spot more often. Over the last nine games he’s played, Werth has hit second in six of them — and Eaton was in the lineup all six times. For comparison, Eaton has hit second just four times in the 12 games he and Werth have both played.
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While not a ton of stock should be put into Spring Training lineups — Ryan Zimmerman has hit in front of Eaton on multiple occasions — the idea is intriguing nonetheless. Werth is right-handed while Eaton is a lefty, so perhaps Baker envisions switching them around based on the opposing starting pitcher.
The biggest problem with Eaton hitting second is that Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy would presumably be hitting behind him, putting three lefties in a row. Eaton and Turner could be swapped to split up the trio, but hitting Turner leadoff would give him free reign to swipe bases as he pleases. Anthony Rendon is also a viable option to be moved up, but so far Baker’s leaned more heavily on Werth at the top of the order.
Both Rendon and Werth struggled at the beginning of last season. Baker had originally penciled in Rendon at second — a spot he held under previous manager Matt Williams — but swapped him with Werth back to the number six spot and both excelled in the roles.
Werth turns 38 this season and no one’s sure what to expect out of him, but his ability to work counts and produce solid at-bats certainly puts him in the conversation for the top of the order.
As Opening Day draws closer, Baker will start to make final decisions on where his stars will hit. The Nats’ lineup has the potential to be among the best in the league, and Werth’s role will play an integral part in it. The only thing that’s still uncertain is whether he’ll be a table setter or run producer.