Tuesday, April 5, 2011, 6:21 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
NATIONALS PAGE NATIONALS VIDEO
MIAMI -- Ian Desmond was out of the Washington Nationals' lineup Tuesday evening, not so much because of his 0-for-13 start to the season but because manager Jim Riggleman wanted to make sure some of his reserves didn't go ice cold sitting on the bench.
When Desmond returns to the lineup Wednesday, though, he won't be back in the leadoff role. After struggling in that top spot through the season's first three games, he's getting bumped down to the 7-hole, swapping spots with rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa.
How Riggleman decides to arrange his lineup after that depends on how each young infielder responds at the plate.
"We're just going to see how it plays out," the manager said. "Whichever one is getting the job done, he'll hit first and the other will hit seventh."
Upon trading Nyjer Morgan to the Milwaukee Brewers during the final week of spring training, the Nationals knew they no longer had a prototypical leadoff hitter on their roster. Riggleman decided initially to go with Desmond, based mostly on his one full season of big-league experience compared to Espinosa's one month at this level.
Espinosa, though, did frequently hit leadoff in the minors and profiles as more of a long-term answer at the top of the order than Desmond, who has been most successful as a No. 2 hitter.
"Espinosa was pretty good at it in the minor leagues, actually," Riggleman said. "That certainly does have something to play into it."
Desmond, who hit .269 with a .308 on-base percentage in 154 games last season, is still seeking his first hit of 2011 after three straight 0-fers last week against the Braves. He did start to feel more comfortable at the plate Sunday against Atlanta ace Tim Hudson, hitting two balls hard to the opposite field.
The 25-year-old shortstop insisted Tuesday's he's not stressing over his poor start, pointing out it gets magnified because it's happening at the very beginning of the season. Indeed, few paid any attention to the 0-for-17 stretch Desmond endured last June because of its random timing.
"I'd rather get it out of the way now," he said. "That's why I'm really not that worried about."
Desmond was looking forward to taking Tuesday's game off and watching from the dugout, clearing his head a bit. And he wasn't the least bit concerned with his changed role when he returns to the lineup Wednesday.
"I don't care where I hit," he said. "My main objective is to be a good shortstop. Anything on top of that is a plus."
Mark Zuckerman also blogs about the Nationals at natsinsider.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MarkZuckerman.