Friday, March 5, 2010

Duncan's multiple roles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chris Duncan (right) has started at first base the last two days.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chris Duncan is one of the more-interesting non-roster players in Nationals camp. He's got a track record of success at the big-league level, having twice bopped 20-plus homers for the Cardinals despite limited playing time (in 2006 and 2007). But he saw his production plummet the last two years, in part because of a herniated disc in his neck that required surgery.

Now 28, Duncan is in Nats camp, trying to make it as a bench player. He's played mostly left and right fields during his big-league career, but he actually came up as a first baseman, only to get moved to the outfield in St. Louis because of some guy named Pujols. The son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan started yesterday in Kissimmee at first base, and will be back there again today against the Braves.

Defense has never been Duncan's specialty, though he does feel more comfortable at first base. Then again, with Adam Dunn entrenched in the heart of the lineup, there aren't going to be many opportunities to start there.

Really, if Duncan makes the Opening Day roster, it will be because of his ability to hit.

"He gives the manager a little versatility, because he'd be a left-handed bat off the bench that can change the game with one swing of the bat," GM Mike Rizzo said. "That brings value in and of itself."

Here's the question, though: If he's not getting regular at-bats as a position player, can Duncan thrive as a pinch-hitter? The Nats have a plan to try to figure that out this spring. Jim Riggleman said he may have Duncan sit out several games in a row at some point, then send him to the plate late in an exhibition game.

"We need to get a little bit of a read on him to see if he's capable of doing that," the manager said.


Doc said...

In consideration of bench players, Mike Morse may be the best bet, offensively and defensively. He may have the best bat, except for Duncan's past history. They have a lot of options to sort through, and most of the players seem to be of equal value.

Bill C-H said...

We always talk in terms that Willie Harris is a lock on a bench position. I'm not sure we should be so sure. There may be a better combination of players that will be more valuable over the course of the season.

Anonymous said...

It seems like it is going to be Duncan v. Morse for a spot on the bench.

peric said...

Morse is more flexible and plays more positions. He is a right-handed bat. Duncan is a left-handed bat. Its a question of who you want pinch-hitting in a game on the left side, Willie Harris? Bernadina? Or Duncan?

I think the competition will be more with the other left-handed bats in camp. And if you trade someone like a Willingham, or even a Guzman Duncan may come in handy if its in exchange for more pitching?

Anonymous said...

Duncan was always a good cluch hitter, I would like a guy around.

Will said...

Willie Harris shouldn't be a lock for the bench. He should start.

Over the past two seasons, Willie Harris has been significantly better than all of our outfielders.

His defense is fantastic and his bat is above average. He'd be lucky for the Nats to release him, because he's good enough to start, but the Nats management is too dense to realize it.

Steve M. said...

Morse and Willie Harris are the utility guys you need. I would add the lefty Bernadina for defense, speed and his X factor intangibles.

The rest have a lot to prove.

Brian Benson said...

I would like to see Duncan stick. He could prove to be a huge asset if someone gets hurt, or has a less than stellar year.

Farid in Idaho said...

For his career, Duncan is .241/.333/.519 (6 homers, 16 RBI) as a pinch hitter.

Compare that to Mike Morse, who has hit .393/.452/.519 (1 homer, 8 RBI) as a pinch hitter

I'd love to see both of them on the team.

greg said...

i'd be surprised to see both of them make the team, as they're both backing up similar positions and neither is stellar defensively. they're just too similar.

Anonymous said...

I watched Duncan play in St. Louis, if he is healthy then the Nats should have him on the bench. He actually gets a bum rap in the outfield, he worked hard on his fielding, and although he might not be the smoothest looking outfielder he always got to the balls he should have got to and always threw to the correct base or cut off. His bat when healthy is a real asset, and he always had great strike zone judgment and was willing to take his walk. I am pulling for him to make the team, if he is healthy from his disc surgery the Nats have a real player in Chris Duncan.

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