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Elijah Dukes has been batting seventh, or even eighth, some games this spring, and that is not coincidence. Spring training is a time to try things out, and Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman is considering batting Dukes lower in the batting order this season.
Dukes typically hit sixth last season when the Nationals had their full complement, but the addition of Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy may push him down in the order. Riggleman floated the idea of a regular lineup that would look something like this:
1. Nyjer Morrgan, CF
2. Cristian Guzman, SS
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Adam Dunn, 1B
5. Josh Willingham, LF
6. Adam Kennedy, 2B
7. Ivan Rodriguez, C
8. Elijah Dukes, RF
9. Starting pitcher
"With the addition of Kennedy and Pudge, there's a possibility he's going to hit lower in the lineup," Riggleman said. "Guzman is very comfortable in the second spot. I like kind of having Kennedy behind Willingham. When Willingham is swinging good, it'd be nice for a right-handed pitcher to realize, 'If I don't pitch to him, there's a pretty good left-handed hitter behind him.' That could be the likely scenario."
Riggleman said he is not wedded to the notion of going lefty-right-lefty. But when a right-hander is pitching, the Nationals would alternate all the way from two through seven.
Riggleman didn't commit to having Dukes seventh or eighth if/when he is dropped. It seems like batting Rodriguez behind Dukes makes more sense. Dukes knows the strike well and can draw walks, an ability that would be heightened but also made less relevant with the pitcher batting behind him. Dukes is also a far more legitimate power threat, but with the pitcher on-deck he is more likely to see a bushel of breaking balls, which he is still adjusting to. With Dukes batting eighth, I assume there would be fewer instances in which the pitcher leads off an inning.
Riggleman said that "Pudge can also hit second," which would allow a hitter adept at making outs to make more of them. Rodriguez punched up a .280 on-base percentage last season, and his OBP since 2005 is .304. Either way, Riggleman believes the Nationals will be a lineup of moving parts.
"I don't think we're going to have a lineup where we say, 'These are the guys who hit in these slots every day,' " Riggleman said. "In a perfect world that's probably what happens. But very few clubs are able to stay in their slots, based on whether a right-hander is pitching or a left-hander is pitching."
As the Nationals prepare to try to notch their first spring training win today against the Astros in Kissimmee, Boz examines the Nationals trying to break a culture of losing. It's still not too late to look back at the Nationals' offseason. FanGraphs has its Top 100 prospects list, and it agrees with Baseball America that Stephen Strasburg is No. 2 behind Atlanta's Jason Heyward. Derek Norris checks in at 31, Ian Desmond makes it at 83 and Drew Storen, No., 92 on BA's last, is nowhere to be found.
A small piece of housekeeping: I tweeted this yesterday but neglected to mention here that the Nationals had reassigned catcher Devin Ivany and first baseman Josh Whitesell to minor league camp.
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