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Washington Nationals: About that seventh-inning switch

Morning roundup

The seventh inning last night provided an odd defensive sideshow. Rarely will you see two position players swap spots in mid-inning. But the Nationals and Manager Jim Riggleman did it last night.

The reason for the swap started in the top of the seventh. Ian Desmond and Michael Morse both pinch-hit, Desmond in the pitcher's spot to lead off the inning and Morse for Roger Bernadina in the second spot in the order. Morse ended the inning with a double play. The easy move, of course, would have been to let Morse play right field for Bernadina.

Riggleman did not make the easy move. I am going to try to make this explanation - his explanation - as simple and accurate as possible.

On his bench, Riggleman had left Adam Kennedy and Willie Harris, two lefties, and Wil Nieves, a light-hitting back-up catcher. With the eighth inning to play, the Nationals had six hitters to go before the No. 9 spot in the order came up again. Riggleman figured that spot in the order would come up in the ninth, when he assumed the Braves would use left-handed closer Billy Wagner.

If Desmond came out of the game, the only choice in the ninth (potentially) against Wagner would have been Kennedy, Harris or Nieves. Thinking ahead two innings, Riggleman did not want that. Desmond had not played right field this season, but he played there sparingly last year and in spring training.

So, Riggleman decided Desmond in right field was preferable to 1) letting a lefty or Nieves (theoretically) hit against Wagner in the ninth, or 2) Cristian Guzman playing right field, Alberto Gonzalez playing second and Desmond playing short.

(Quick aside: It seems like Riggleman could have avoided the problem by just pinch-hitting Morse in the pitcher's spot and Desmond later in the inning for Bernadina. Perhaps he wanted to save Morse for a position in which he could drive in a run.)

Anyway, the seventh inning began with Desmond in right field. He beat his glove and crouched to get ready as if still playing shortstop. Reliever Doug Slaten walked one batter and hit another. As the inning wore, Riggleman contemplated what he should do about right field.

Riggleman started thinking about Gonzalez's recent pregame work in right field. Gonzalez had never before played outfield, but he looked sharp in those practice sessions. Riggleman thought maybe it would be best for Desmond to not play right field. He also thought it would be best for Guzman to stay in the infield - Guzman had not played right since June 3, the day he lost a ball in the lights in Houston and dropped what would have the final out of a victory.

Riggleman would go with Gonzalez in right field. "I just changed my mind on it," he said.

Slaten wholly ineffective, Riggleman replaced him with Miguel Batista. As Batista warmed up, it was actually Guzman who jogged off the field. He emerged from the dugout with two gloves and gave one of them to Gonzalez. (I'm assuming it was Guzman's outfielder's glove and he was letting Gonzalez borrow it.) Anyway, Guzman tossed Gonzalez's infielder's glove to Ryan Zimmerman, who tossed it into the dugout.

The game resumed.

Batista walked the second batter he faced with the bases loaded to force in a run.

Desmond did face Wagner in the ninth. With a man on second, Desmond struck out on four pitches, with a feeble half-swing to end the game.

All in all, it could have worked out better.

You can probably tell I'm oddly fascinated by this. (I'm hoping you are, too.) So, here's Riggleman's thought process again, this time in his own words:

"When I hit Desmond in the 9-spot, I knew that Billy Wagner was going to come into this game eventually. I didn't have anybody else right-handed who could hit against Billy. So I wanted to leave Desi in that spot. I knew that spot would come up. So I left him in the game. Then, the slot that was coming out of the game was right field, because I pinch-hit for Bernie. So I put him in right field. Then, the more I thought about it and played it in my mind ... Gonzalez has really done a lot of work out there lately, so I decided to put him out there. It just didn't hit me, because I haven't had him out there. But I just felt like he's really looked good out there in pregame stuff. He's taken some work out there with the outfielders. And I just felt like I'd go ahead and put him out there. Because Desi hasn't been out there in a year. And Guzy, it's been a while since he's been out there. So I just changed my mind on it."


With a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals ensured they will go at least two months without winning a series on the road.

The area around Nats Park is still far from complete any kind of renaissance, Robert McCartney writes.


Buffalo 9, Syracuse 4: Justin Maxwell went 2 for 4 with a home run and a double, raising his average to .293. Matt Chico allowed six earned runs on 10 hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings.

Portland 7, Harrisburg 4: In his second Class AA start, John Lannan allowed six runs on 10 hits and two walks in six innings, striking out one. Edgardo Baez went 2 for 4 with a double.

Winston-Salem 4, Potomac 2: Josh Johnson went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Brad Peacock allowed three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings.

Lakewood 3, Hagerstown 2: Lakewood scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. The Suns managed three hits. Justin Bloxom went 1 for 4 with a home run. Mitchell Clegg allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings.

Vermont 8, Tri-City 0: Leave it to the 10-3 Lake Monsters to provide the organization's lone win. Russell Moldenhauer went 2 for 4 with two home runs and a walk. Stephen King went 2 for 5. Matt Swynenberg allowed no runs on three hits and no walks in six innings, striking out two.


The Nationals squandered the chances they had last night, Mark Zuckerman writes.

The Nats just aren't good enough right now, Ben Goessling writes.

Roger Bernadina had a great June, Guy Curtright notes.

By Adam Kilgore  |  June 30, 2010; 11:50 PM ET
Categories:  Ian Desmond , Jim Riggleman  
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Next: Nationals Minor League Report


I find it oddly fascinating too, and thought I'd see impassioned debate, with references to "re-arranging deck chairs" Instead, I see "No comments have been posted . . ."

Maybe until the Nats show some ability to come from behind late, the fan attitude could be -- does it really matter?

Posted by: KenNat | July 1, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Since NO ONE can score any runs now anyway, shouldn't Riggels worry more about keeping the best defensive players out there at all times?????

Posted by: charley42 | July 1, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Once again Riggo shows that he’s oddly fascinated with going strictly by the book on these infernal right-lefty match-ups. Ho-hum. Demsond, Nieves, Harris, etc. Does it really matter who batted against Wagner?

This could be an ugly holiday weekend in Natstown.

Posted by: gonatsgo1 | July 1, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

1. Riggleman is far too obsessed with the lefty - righty match-ups. Several weeks back he had Gonzalez on deck to pinch hit for the pitcher, then pulled him for Willie Harris. WILLIE HARRIS? Batting .155??? Of course, Willie rewarded his manager by hitting into a double play.
2. Riggleman is spending his mental energy worrying about right field, but who cares -- the bullpen goes: Hit batter, Walk, Hit Batter, Walk a run in (one run, NO HITS, NO FC, NO ERROR -- just inept pitching)
Its starting to feel like 2008 - 2009 all over again. Maybe its time to indulge in the ritual DC Sports fantasy -- Dan Snyder's off season moves have again put us just one win away from the Super Bowl!! The Wizards #1 draft will leap the team back to the playoffs.
Oh well -- at least its a beautiful summer evening - Go Nat's Beat Mets (jetlagged)

Posted by: humbleandfree | July 1, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

It is a sad state when everyone (except Zimm, Pudge, Nieves, Kennedy)has played in the outfield at some point in thier Nats career. What other team can say that?

Also, why is Maxwell stil listed on the Nats offical depth chart last verified: Jul 1, 2010? The funny thing is Lannan is not.

Posted by: hansenjo | July 1, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the fill-in Adam. Ir certainly helps explain the bizarre goings-on. When you've got a confused manager and a non-hitting team, we can at least enjoy the mental peregrinations of a AAA manager holding down the fort in the Nats' dugout.

That's entertainment.

Posted by: JohnRDC | July 1, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

There was a second, less odd, but unusual managerial moment in this game.

Batista pitched the 8th, and came out for the 9th. Sometime during the half inning break, Riggleman must have decided to have Capps pitch the ninth, and so Capps got up to get warm. But when the 9th was readying to start, Capps needed a few more pitches, so Batista goes out to the mound.

And then, Riggleman makes the pitching change, bringing in Capps.

Unusual, strange, and a sign of a manager who is not in complete control of the events unfolding about him.

Posted by: Sunderland | July 1, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Or there's nothing left to say, just different people (who can't spell) saying the same things.

Maybe until the Nats show some ability to come from behind late, the fan attitude could be -- does it really matter?
Posted by: KenNat | July 1, 2010 10:28 AM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | July 1, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I won't question Rigg's moves, even though that is the birth right of any blogger, but I will say that he appears overwhelmed right now. Poor play is not his fault but how he reacts to it is. I cannot believe Morgan started Tuesday night after his gaffes on Monday. He could have put Willie in center and I would have been fine with it.

I hope they pull out of this funk and if they do, I'll be convinced that it will be in spite of their manager.

Posted by: sjt1455 | July 1, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Why does the term "swinging gate" keep coming to mind?

Posted by: zimbar | July 1, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Why does the word "strategery" keep coming to mind?

Posted by: thelonghaul | July 1, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Riggleman is looking weaker and weaker as a game manager.

He may be great at managing a clubhouse over the course of a season, but things like determining who his emergency rightfielder should be thought through well before game time.

Also, two nights out of three in Atlanta he had let Gonzalez hit against righties in THE crucial at-bat of the game, proving bot htimes to be hopelessly over matched, swinging at curveballs a foot outside.

Either Riggleman totally mis-judged Gonzo's chances of coming through in both those situations, or he doesn't have much confidence in his bench, or he didn't realize that each of these two at-bats were the Nats last-best hope of making something happen.

Unless things turnoround for the better soon, I doubt we will have too much longer to critique Riggleman's moves -- he'll be gone.

Posted by: hapster | July 1, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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