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A Lineup Change, and the First Base Picture

Note the lineup change: Austin Kearns has been scratched because of a right thumb contusion. That shifts Josh Willingham to the outfield. (So much for this being his first career start at 1B.) The revised lineup goes as follows:

Morgan - 8
Guzman - 6
Zimmerman - 5
Willingham - 7
Dukes - 9
Belliard - 3
Gonzalez - 4
Nieves - 2
Balester - 1

Now, as for that first base position... To be sure, when the Nats traded first baseman Nick Johnson to Florida, they also relinquished all stability at his old position. Johnson, at the time of the deal, had started 92 of Washington's 102 games at first. He'd played 90.2 percent of the innings. Now, to fill the innings that remain, the Nationals must pick from among a trio of players -- Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Ronnie Belliard -- who are better suited for other positions.

The Nationals will use the season's final two months to test Dunn (primarily) and Willingham (more sparingly) at first. Willingham, who has played exactly four career innings at the position, was supposed to get his first career start at first on Sunday. But with the last-minute Kearns scratch, that plan was scrapped.

For Willingham, the lineup shuffle merely delayed the experiment. When Johnson was traded, Willingham immediately reminded interim manager Jim Riggleman that he was willing to play first. He's since been taking extra groundballs with coach Pat Listach.

Acting general manager Mike Rizzo expects either Dunn or Willingham to hold the position in 2010. "I don't see it as one of our priorities," Rizzo said, dismissing the idea that his team needs a player there. "I see one of these guys on our current roster taking that position next year."

The organization believes that first baseman Chris Marrero, its 2006 first-round pick, might be ready for the big leagues in 2011. Now in his third season with Class A Potomac, Marrero, hitting .299, fourth-best in the Carolina League, is enjoying his best pro season, and Rizzo calls him "a middle-of-the-lineup guy." But Washington plans to keep Marrero, who missed much of 2008 with a broken right fibula, in Class A for the rest of the season. Why the conservative approach?

Primarily, because he needs to work on his defense.

"He's right on pace," Rizzo said. "He's a 21-year-old at the high Class A level. Every other 21-year-old this year is a junior in college; they'd be drafted this year and where would they go? They'd go to the New York-Penn League or something like that. So if you look at it that way, he's at least two rungs ahead of the college juniors, and he's younger than all of them. So he's right on pace with his developmental curve, and I just don't want him to take the challenge of the Class AA level offensively while learning a new defensive position. I think it's counterproductive to his development, and I think it's unfair to him."

*

Continuing with some other notes...

Here is Pittsburgh's lineup

McCutchen - 8
Milledge - 7
Jones - 3
Doumit - 4
Young - 5
LaRoche - 5
Moss - 9
Cedeno - 6
Maholm - 1

*

Rookie pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, on the 15-day disabled list with elbow soreness, is eligible for come off the DL on Friday. And so far, he's making progress. Zimmermann threw a 40-pitch bullpen on Saturday, reported no problems, and has now been scheduled for a rehab start on Tuesday with Class A Potomac. Zimmermann believes he'll need just one minor league start before rejoining the Nationals. But the team might take a more cautious approach, and keep Zimmermann in the minors for a second rehab appearance. Rizzo said that decision will be dictated by how Zimmermann looks on Tuesday, when he's slated to go four innings.

*

In Cristian Guzman's last seven games, he gotten at least two hits and an RBI every time. His totals during that span: 15 for 32 (.469), two homers, 10 RBI. I guess he likes hitting second.

By Chico Harlan  |  August 2, 2009; 1:15 PM ET
 
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Next: A 5-3 Win, Helped by a 6-4 Putout

Comments

you left out a few 'n's there, Chico. Gotta be diligent about that.

Posted by: NatsNut | August 2, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Well, we have some hot hitters, so let's go to it, guys!

Posted by: Nats_Lady | August 2, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

If there has already been a lot of NJ discussion of Bally and I missed it, sorry for the repetition.

It seems to me that he has turned the confidenc corner, after being a mess on the mound, and that he'll stick this time?

Posted by: nova_g_man | August 2, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, NatsNut! Zimm got his Ns back.

Posted by: Chico Harlan | August 2, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Right now Balester and Martin seem to be doing better than Stammen and most definitely Mock. Both Mock and Stammen appear to have taken a couple of steps back and are more like Detwiler, Martis, and Estrada down in AAA. We'll have to see what Rogers looks like when he gets to Harrisburg or Syracuse.

The staff in Syracuse is under huge flux. They've promoted some relief guys from below into the pitching staff at Syracuse. So far all have had problems with AAA hitting.

Only Storen and Holder are progressing rapidly at this point. They are still in "A" ball.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Love Dukes' brand of baseball. That throw home yesterday and the dynamite slide.

Posted by: nova_g_man | August 2, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Zim no longer threatens for the GIDP league lead, despite today's contribution. Another 3B has surged to the front, 2008 ROY Evan.

Posted by: nova_g_man | August 2, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Good job, Chico. It's bad enough the national guys get it wrong, can't have our hometown guy doing it too! =)

Posted by: NatsNut | August 2, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

If I had to guess I would say that #8 hitters hit .350+ against the Nats.

Posted by: curz | August 2, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Raining in Pittsburgh.

Posted by: Nats_Lady | August 2, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I'd just like to see this lineup for a week straight, I think it could play .500 ball.

Morgan 8
Guzman 6
Zimmerman 5
Dunn 3
Willingham 7
Dukes 9
Harris 4
Bard 2

Posted by: curz | August 2, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

@curz: it would nice to have a try at a stable line-up, so the guys get used to playing with each other in the same position.

Posted by: Nats_Lady | August 2, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

OK, JOSH!!!

Posted by: Nats_Lady | August 2, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

the Alabama Hamma (per Dribble) AGAIN.

Posted by: Nats_Lady | August 2, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

YESSS. A "K" for Lastings.

Posted by: nattydread1 | August 2, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Riggleman just yanked Bergman for Villone. Does that mean he's gonna bring in McDougal in the bottom of the 9th?!?
Game over, Pirates win with a walk-off...

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | August 2, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

If we play Dunn at first base for the last 2 months of the season, my bet is Rizzo will change his mind about needing someone for next year. If Rizzo really values defense (as he's said he does) I cannot imagine Dunn at 1B for a whole year. For me, that's a scary thought. If they're not going to bring NJ back (at the right price, why not?) then I'm hoping they'll at least get someone they can put in as a defensive replacement late in the game. Personally, I'd keep Dunn and Willingham in the OF and get someone to plug the hole at 1B until Marrero is ready.

Posted by: grforbes | August 2, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

that's our gas-canrahan!

at least he's consistent -- always pushed for him but too much drama! glad we got rid of him for value!

Posted by: mo_dc | August 2, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Well, how do you like that? A WIN!!

You know, I am not so negative about Dunn at 1B. Maybe he will learn to field the position. He doesn't have to be fast or get a good jump like in the OF. And he has a good eye, just look at those walks. He doesn't want to be a DH in the American League, so I think he will put in the effort over the winter. Let's hope.

Posted by: Nats_Lady | August 2, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

@1stBaseCoach: Gotcha! MacDougal pitches the 9th & the Nats get the curly-W.

Posted by: BinM | August 2, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

@Nats_Lady: Sadly, Dunn's glove will continue to make loud, clanking noises whenever he drops it on the bench, regardless of position (LF or 1B).
However, with the way the team is currently constructed, he'll be at 1B against most RHSP for the remainder of the season.

Posted by: BinM | August 2, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Well now we finally beat a triple "a" team,but seriously I can't see Dunn at first base i'd be willing to bring the "Quick" back at first base for next year if we want to play .500 ball, the big issue with this team is pitching and defense not necessarily in that order if Flores can stay healthy and we can get some decent play from 2ndb and ss we could at least be respectable, but the mound,the bullpen and solid fundamentals will be key and oh yeah who will manage next season?

Posted by: dargregmag | August 2, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Sweet! A win and a solid game all around.

You know it's our day when Ronnie Belliard has a stolen base.

Posted by: longhorn64 | August 2, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Could we just skip Mock as a SP tomarrow & go with Martin on short rest? Martin might give the team 4+, then bring in Clippard for 2+, then Burnett & MacDougal.

On second thought, go ahead & pitch Mock for 4-5 innings tomarrow - that way, he misses the Marlins.

Posted by: BinM | August 2, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Disclaimer: I'm about to irritate Dukes haters and Willingham fans.

I think our best move this offseason w/r/t the OF/1B situation is to trade either Dunn or Willingham, keep Dukes in RF, and trade for or sign a decent 1B for 1-2 years while we groom Marrero (or Derek Norris, or Bryce Harper) to take over as the long-term future of the position. We could even sign Nick back at the right price (yes, I was in favor of trading him, but if we can get him at a value, he can still help this team a lot). With Dukes playing average-above average defense in RF, Morgan can shade to the left just slightly and we can live with either Dunn or Willingham in LF just fine. Dukes has a very strong bat and I think he is a better all-around player than Dunn or Willingham in RF. I think putting both Dunn and Hammer in the OF is a mistake, and the poor defensive alignment will negate any value having both bats in the lineup offers.

I do not think Dunn is the answer at 1B just because he is more exposed there and he would touch the ball more often in the field when playing 1B (this is a bad thing). Statistically, he is a worse fielder at 1B than in LF. If Willingham can learn 1B, that would be fantastic, but I don't want to rely on that as the answer this offseason. I think either player can get us a strong return in the off-season trade market, and I hope we consider it.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | August 2, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

@1stBaseCoach: Gotcha! MacDougal pitches the 9th & the Nats get the curly-W.

Posted by: BinM

*********

I'm always happy to be wrong if we win.
But still, MacDougal once again flirted with end-o-game disaster: His 2 out, bottom of the 9th walk, followed by a very near wild pitch, then ending with a very hard-hit line drive out to Guzman that was just inches away from starting some serious Hanrahan-like meltdown mischief...doesn't make me feel my prediction was that far off.

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | August 2, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

@1stBaseCoach: MacDougal is this years' version of Cardiac Cordero. He throws much harder, but still flirts with disaster in nearly every outing.

Posted by: BinM | August 2, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

@cheese53: Let's see what the remainder of the season brings before we speculate on the 2010 lineups, ok? I personally still have doubts that Dukes can play 145+ games a year.

With the # of players who could be off the roster in October (6- DYoung, Bard, Belliard, Kearns, Villone, Sosa as either 5th-yr or option-yr), and 13 others (Flores, Nieves, Hernandez, Gonzalez, Willingham, Bernadina, Maxwell, Olsen, Martis, Clippard, Kensing, Bergmann, MacDougal) either out of options or Arb-eligible, there could be a "sea-change" coming.

Posted by: BinM | August 2, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Folks, The problem with MacDougal is he has one pitch, a fastball heater. That is it. I agree Chad Cordero was the same way.

Eventually hitters realize that a fastball is coming, even at 95+ MPH, they will eventually catch up to it and get a hit.

MacDougal needs to develop a hard slider or change up that he can command enough to throw for strikes, at least some of the time, to keep them honest.

Posted by: bigmook | August 2, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

"With the # of players who could be off the roster in October (6- DYoung, Bard, Belliard, Kearns, Villone, Sosa as either 5th-yr or option-yr), and 13 others (Flores, Nieves, Hernandez, Gonzalez, Willingham, Bernadina, Maxwell, Olsen, Martis, Clippard, Kensing, Bergmann, MacDougal) either out of options or Arb-eligible, there could be a "sea-change" coming."

They have a dearth of position players in the high minors. Lots of pitchers, but even there still a mingling of prospects and almost if not no-longer-prospect types. As for the pitchers it'll be interesting to watch and see what they decide. As most have not really not measured up. I expect they'll find a way to keep Martis because of his age.

I guess they find a way to keep Willingham, Flores, and Gonzalez ... mebbe Bard. Nieves? His days may be numbered with switch hitting Sean Rooney doing so well. While Bard is left handed.

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Ok everyone, start moaning and groaning about Belliard so I can guarantee another curly fried W tomorrow.

Posted by: cokedispatch | August 2, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Its possible that Wilkie, Spradlin, Everts, Zinicola and Storen could be ready next year. Possibly Holder plus Arneson as starting pitching types. Then there's Strasburg and
possibly Karns.

Just as Tracee said, if he's still here, it gives Rizzo some trade bait and flexibility. However, Wilkie, Zinicola and Spradlin appear to struggle with AAA pitching. Zinicola and Holder, Storen excluded the others are close to the age when the professionals begin to consider them no-prospects ... and even failures.

If Rizzo is still here, decisions about the make up of the 40 man and the minors is going to be tough for him. I guess rule 5 will be a problem given the performances of some of the older veteran pitchers and utility men.

Why do I find the above so interesting? Because this is THE dead last, worst of the worst team in the majors. Yet before too long it may sport 3 guys in the heart of lineup with over 20 home runs, one with an unreal slugging percentage. Two on pace to make 100 RBIs. They have 4 or 5 guys who are hitting around .300 and at least 3 that have been there for most of the year. Dunn is hitting way above his career average.

The outfield is now a very respectable one anchored by Morgan, a 23rd round draft pick I think? :) The corners appear to be "set". The middle of the infield is still suspect, but there is another potential "lead" waiting in the wings for an audition in Ian Desmond. Catcher is again a question mark until Flores returns and can prove he will not be a "Nick Johnson clone". He has been injured more than once while with the Nats.

This looks pretty tough to me ... Rizzo has to prognosticate a bit ... taking what the minor league coaches and scouts tell him, what his staff (and hopefully others) say about his 25 man and 40 man roster. And then trying to figure out what he can rely on that he already to determine what he needs to get. Many will likely disagree ... and say they just need to tear the whole thing down ala Pittsburgh. In lieu of that the decision making looks kind of hard? Given that it is the dead last place team. Yet the minor league affiliates have played better than respectably for the most-part? Indicating that some potential does exist there.

It seem to appear as if they would be better off with a Morse as opposed to a Belliard. Morse can play more positions and appears to bring a better bat. I'm not sure why they don't try Padilla at the very least as a pinch hitter / backup outfielder? Keeping Super Willie to back up Morgan and Dukes.

So, in the end it appears as if the only changes next year would be made in the pitching, especially in relief, and the middle infield. That's strange for a .311 winning percentage club?

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

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