Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The shortstop, the utiltyman and the phenom

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.


An Briosca Mor said...

Strasburg could also pitch at Nationals Park in the exhibition game on April 3rd and be right on schedule to pitch at Potomac on April 8th. Between Strasburg and the Red Sox, that would result in a huge payday for the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. I really can't think of a reason that it won't happen.

cadeck13 said...

I hope you are right about SS pitching March 19 (but I won't hold you to it) I have tickets to that game and I would love to get a look at him :)

Bob L. Head said...

Nats signed Livo to a minor league deal.

Todd Boss said...

Kennedy had far better OBP numbers than guzman; seems to me that he's a better #2 hitter.

Here's 2009 numbers:
Guzman: .284/.306/.390
Kennedy: .289/.348/.410

Andrew said...

You already have Mike Morse, Willie Harris, and Pete Orr as potential utility men and IMHO Mike Morse plays more positions well than anyone else and is the best choice as a 1st Baseman to back-up Adam Dunn in the depth chart.

Anonymous8 said...

ABM - The April 3rd exhibition game against Boston is already projected as a potential sell-out. Its not sold out yet, but will be close to it.

I do agree that if Strasburg pitches then the remaining tickets will be scooped up quickly.

I think the big draw, strategically, is that the opponent is the BOSTON RED SOX and would be close to a sell out if Daniel Cabrera was the starting pitcher.

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