With Wilson Ramos, who batted fourth for the Washington Nationals last Monday, now on the disabled list for the foreseeable future, manager Matt Williams will have to rethink the new-look lineup he pieced together for the Nationals' Opening Day game against the New York Mets going forward.
The team sported a few different lineups in the first two series of the season, and got some results, but one player who has not so far is Bryce Harper.
Harper sat out of Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves after going 3-for-21 to start the season, and told reporters (including James Wagner of The Washington Post) on Sunday that he is "pretty lost [at the plate] right now."
Harper batted sixth in the game on Monday and did so again on Wednesday and Friday, which was unusual considering he spent most of 2013 hitting in the third, fourth or fifth spots in the lineup. But Williams' justification of Harper's placement was actually very intriguing.
During the MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, home television station of the Nationals) telecast of the game, broadcasters Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo discussed how Williams had said he put Harper in the sixth spot to give him a better opportunity to be his aggressive self both at the plate and on the basepaths.
Williams said that because there is less pressure on Harper to drive in runs during his at-bats and to be a more conservative baserunner with big bats hitting behind him, he will have more opportunities to steal and to go after pitches he wouldn't normally chase.
Using Williams' logic, moving Harper back down to the sixth spot could prove beneficial while he tries to "find himself" again. Harper has always acknowledged that he's a very emotional player, so anything the Nationals can do to take some of that stress away (without angering the also vocal 21-year-old) should help him with getting back to normal.
The one concern here is that Williams would risk opening the door for Harper to play his more reckless style of baseball that the Nationals have worked so hard to tone down over the last two years. But at the same time, his logic behind the move definitely made sense.
Looking at the situation at hand, the pros of keeping Harper in the sixth spot seem to outweigh the cons.
Because of the early success of players like Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon, the Nationals have enough depth in their lineup that they can afford to at least experiment for a while with the concept of hitting Harper sixth in the order. While it may seem counterintuitive to take one of their better bats out of RBI opportunities, at age 21, Harper is still developing his raw talent, and taking some of the pressure off could help speed that process up.
Williams has shown a very impressive knowledge of baseball and of his players in the early stages of his managerial career. This idea may be his best stroke of genius yet, so let's stick with it.