WASHINGTON — Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier continued this week their endless stumping for Anthony Rendon to bat higher in the Nationals’ order.
Rendon is batting .315 with 20 home runs and 66 RBI in 2017, primarily out of the sixth spot in the lineup.
Although, the 106.7 The Fan hosts argue it should be the Nationals third baseman, rather than say, Ryan Raburn, Brian Goodwin or Wilmer Difo — whom they derisively regard as ‘4-A players’ — who bats second. Such lineup optimization, they argue, would allow Rendon, one of the club’s best hitters, to see more plate appearances.
Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo addressed manager Dusty Baker’s lineup decisions during his weekly appearance with The Sports Junkies on Wednesday, after being asked specifically why Rendon continues to bat sixth.
“I think Dusty likes [Rendon] protecting [Daniel] Murphy,” Rizzo said. “I think that’s the big reason, so Murphy gets pitches to hit.”
“He likes Rendon in a run-producing position instead of a run-scoring position,” he said. “It makes sense both ways. I think Rendon’s more comfortable hitting there, which I think has something to do with it, and also that I think there’s a better balance, a better flow in the lineup when Rendon hits down in the run-producing part of the lineup.”
Among Nats players, Rendon ranks fourth in RBI, and fifth in runs scored (52), and 21st and 64th among all Major Leaguers in those respective categories.
“Hey, that’s not to say that we don’t miss the players that aren’t in there,” Rizzo said. “What people don’t give us credit for is we’re playing without four starting players for about two months right now. We haven’t missed a beat. We’re 20 games over .500. We’ve got a comfortable lead in the division.”
“We’re going to put our foot to the pedal and keep this thing going as hard as we can,” he continued. “But it’s an amazing fact. When you look at what Dusty has done as a manager, with the lineups that he’s had to create, with the uncertainty of what his personnel is.
“From a month into the season, you’re without your lead-off hitter and your No. 2 hitter, and then your second center fielder goes down and you’re playing with your third center fielder. We’re still second in batting average and in the top two or three in every category, offensively, that there is. It’s amazing. It’s amazing what these backup players have done.”
“It’s amazing what Michael Taylor had done,” he said. “Then he goes down, then we go and grab Brian Goodwin from our minor league system. He comes in and he’s hitting lead-off against right-handers and left-handers, and doing something that he hasn’t done in his Major League career, as being an everyday Major League center fielder hitting at the top of the lineup on a championship caliber club.
“It’s amazing what these guys are doing. You know, we’re running Wilmer Difo playing left field and Adrian Sanchez playing shortstop and beating the Arizona Diamondbacks (57-43). These guys don’t get nearly the credit that they deserve for the roles that they’ve played on this team.”
“I hear a lot about injuries around the Major Leagues,” he said. “We’re without Adam Eaton, [who] was a 9.0-WAR player last year, and Jayson Werth, who’s a 2.5-, 3.0-WAR player, and Trea Turner, who was almost a 4.0-win player in a half a season last year. Aren’t playing for us.
“And we’re still winning baseball games. It’s a tribute to Dusty Baker, his coaching staff, our player development staff who are bringing up minor league players who are fitting in, and filling in, and playing extremely well in a pennant race. That hasn’t been talked about enough in my mind.”
Rizzo’s response sparked some light inter-office sparring on Twitter.
Rizzo was also asked — as the Burke & Herbert Bank Fan Question of the Week — about the Nationals’ top prospect, 20-year-old outfielder Victor Robles, who was promoted to Class-AA Harrisburg from Class-A (Advanced) Potomac on Monday.
Robles slashed .289/.377/.495 with 25 doubles, seven triples, seven homers and 16 stolen bases in 77 games to earn his promotion and become the youngest player since 18-year-old Bryce Harper in 2011 to make his Senators debut.
Does Victor Robles, who was recently promoted to Double-A Harrisburg, come up in every trade proposal you receive? — Brandon in Fairfax
“When it’s a major trade, if it’s a major acquisition on our part, they mention his name and it doesn’t go much farther than that,” Rizzo said. “He’s a really good player. He has a chance to be a really good player, so teams ask about him.”
“You find out in a hurry who your best players are by who the other teams ask for,” he said. “Yeah, Victor, he’s asked about just about in every major trade, because the smaller trades, they don’t even bother asking for him.
“He’s a guy that we’re very reluctant to move because we think he has such great potential. We just moved him to Double-A just a game or so ago and we’re looking forward to him having a good, solid finish in Double-A, maybe playing some Winter League somewhere and Arizona Fall League, and then in the Dominican Winter League, and then we’ll see where he’s at after that.”