VIERA, Fla. -- A good portion of Jim Riggleman's media session this morning was spent talking about perhaps the one true question mark concerning his starting lineup: shortstop. Is Cristian Guzman guaranteed the everyday job, or could Ian Desmond leapfrog him? And if Guzman is the guy, could Desmond remain as a utilityman? And in any scenario, who's going to bat second behind Nyjer Morgan?
So let's address each of these issues, one-by-one, based on what Riggleman had to say this morning...
Is Cristian Guzman guaranteed the everyday job at shortstop?
Yes, provided he is healthy. Guzman is coming back from a shoulder injury, but according to Riggleman, he's nearly back to 100 percent and will start at shortstop in one of the Nats' split-squad games to open the Grapefruit League March 4. "As of day one, our plan is that he's going to play shortstop immediately," the manager said. "We feel like he's basically close to 100 percent."
Could Desmond make the big-league roster as a utilityman?
The way Riggleman talks about it, yes. I'm not so sure Mike Rizzo feels the same way. But the Nats are going to give this consideration this spring and intend to work Desmond at multiple positions, including second base and the outfield. In fact, he'll start at shortstop at the other split-squad game on March 4, but he'll then move to the outfield after a few innings. "Then it just becomes a matter of getting Ian Desmond enough action to warrant keeping him in the big leagues," Riggleman said. "He's a comforting guy to have on the ballclub, because he can play multiple positions. But the multiple positions are going to have to be tested." My read: If Desmond clearly looks like he should be in the big leagues now, and can hold his own in the outfield, he could make the Opening Day roster. But a lot has to go right for that to happen, and the hunch here remains that he starts out as the everyday shortstop in Syracuse.
Who bats second?
Riggleman acknowledged he already knows who his eight starting position players will be (again, provided everyone's healthy). It's not hard to figure out. Willingham, Morgan and Dukes in the outfield. Zimmerman, Guzman, Kennedy and Dunn around the infield. Pudge behind the plate, at least until Flores is ready to return. And under that scenario, Guzman would bat second. "It's fluid. We can change some things," Riggleman said. "A lot of what you do with the lineup is what your numbers are against various pitchers. If you've got a really good matchup, you might want to move some guy up. And if you've got a terrible matchup, you might want to move somebody down a day. But we try to stay away from that. Guzie is comfortable hitting second. He does a good job there. But some of it will depend on how we hit behind Adam Dunn. We want to make sure we make pitchers pitch to Adam Dunn. Last year, we tried a couple of times early in the year to move Guzie down in the lineup to give Adam a little more protection and get some more RBI from down in the order. But Guzie wasn't comfortable down there, it didn't seem, so we got away from that. But we want Adam getting pitched to, so we'll do whatever we've got to do to make that happen."
One other item of interest to report so far this morning: Stephen Strasburg will make his spring training debut March 9 against the Tigers. As I mentioned yesterday, the Nats plan to have Strasburg pitch only in Viera this spring, not on the road. If you want to have some fun and extrapolate things out from the March 9 debut, he'd be slated to pitch again March 14 against the Cardinals, then March 19 against the Cardinals again. The Nats are at the Yankees March 24 and home against the Mets March 29, but by then you've got to think Strasburg will be in minor-league camp. And continuing the five-day theme, all of this would put him on schedule to make his regular-season debut April 8. That happens to coincide with Class A Potomac's season opener, at home against Salem. Obviously, things can change between now and then, so don't hold me accountable if you buy tickets to a game expecting to see the phenom and then miss out. But that schedule certainly makes sense in a lot of ways.