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Eric Bruntlett's offensive change and links

For this point in spring training, the Nationals have plenty of room on the roster still to be sorted out. They have figured out who will start in right field opening day, but the position remains fluid after that. They need to determine their starting shortstop. The back of the rotation is still not set. A handful of relievers are still vying for the last bullpen spots. And the last few places on the bench are still up for grabs.

One of those, it's becoming more and more clear, will likely be filled by infielder Eric Bruntlett. He arrived in camp as a non-roster invitee, but he has played into the picture in a surprising manner: with his offense. Bruntlett yesterday lashed another double to left, his fourth of the spring. Bruntlett also has a home run, meaning five or his seven hits have been for extra bases. In 28 at-bats, an admittedly small sample size, he is slugging .500.

In 118 at-bats last year, Bruntlett had seven extra base hits, all doubles. The sudden boost in power owes to a change in his mindset spurred by Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Playing last year for the National League champion Phillies -- "where the utility guys didn't get to play that much," Jim Riggleman said -- Bruntlett assumed he'd be rusty when he came to bat. So he adopted a simple approach, trying to spray the ball or flip it to the opposite field.

The results were disastrous. He punched up a 22 OPS+ and went .171/.224/.238. He became an offensive liability. It's early, but Bruntlett is shedding that title with the Nationals and Eckstein.

"I'm just trying to be more aggressive," Bruntlett said. "I'm really thinking about driving the ball instead of just going up there and being satisfied with a bunch of balls the other way. I got into a rut trying to do that too much and actually ended up not even being able to do that anymore, just popping a lot of balls up."

Bruntlett is by no means likely to turn into some kind of offensive force. In his career, he has slugged .330 with a 64 OPS+. But he is here the first place for his defense, and if his bat is passable he could be the same reliable bench player who won a World Series with the Phillies in a utility role. In Riggleman's eyes, Bruntlett's improvement from last year has put him into consideration to make the roster. Bruntlett's playing time has surged lately, a sign the Nationals want to take a closer look at him.

"He's doing everything he can," Riggleman said. "He's competing well. Here lately he's gotten a few more at-bats and taken advantage of them."

"It's hard not" to think about making the team, Bruntlett said. "The idea is you just go out and play, try to do whatever you can to 1) get ready for the season ... I guess in that sense, you are kind of thinking about it. Your thoughts going into the game are more trying to show what you can do as opposed what you would normally do during the season."

At the beginning of spring, Bruntlett said many of his teammates gave him a sort of, "so you're the guy who turned that triple play" upon introduction. He's been giving them another reason to know who he is.

It is the time of spring to make some statements. The last days of camp could alter this exhaustive and detailed look at the organization. The Nationals may have to do deal with Cameron Maybin for quite a while. The Nationals can stop wasting their time for a fifth starter, this piece says, because they don't exist.

Former Nationals hitting coach Lenny Harris underwent quadruple bypass surgery and was listed in satisfactory condition. Get well soon.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 22, 2010; 6:47 AM ET
 
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Comments

I would think it is not entirely out of the question that Bruntlett starts opening day at shortstop - not that he win the job permanently, just that he start opening day.

If Guzman begins the year on the DL and the Nats decide to let Desmond polish his defense at AAA for a few more months, then Bruntlett would be competing with Gonzalez for the fill-in.

My actual prediction is that Desmond starts at SS, but there is a scenario where Bruntlett gets the nod.

Based on what has been reported to date, it seems like Guzman needs more time to mend. Better to let him rehab another month so that he has value at trade time. If he blows out his arm by trying to play too soon, the $8 million is sunk and the chance of a trade in July is lost.

A healthy and productive Guzman in July probably gets you a decent 'B' level prospect. Not a star, but a player that could become a starter in a year or two.

Posted by: natbiscuits | March 22, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Killer Kilgore, You have not had the pleasure of watching this team's offense since 2005. I'm no baseball Einstein, but if I were running the show there would be one rule. If you hit, you play.

Posted by: 6thandD | March 22, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I had simply assumed Bruntlett would be heading north with the team.

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 22, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

And Belliard is playing 1st place for the Dodgers ... LOL

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Meant to say 1st base.

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"If you hit you play"? Why is Maxwell, he who got so despondent he didn't perform at all well in Syracuse. Here we are in the spring after a strong **late** September and ???

Posted by: periculum | March 22, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

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