Fredi Gonzalez said back in December that he envisioned giving Nate McLouth a chance to hit second in the batting order, and so far he's keeping his word.
McLouth has hit second twice already, and he's in the lineup at the same spot again Tuesday for the game against the Astros.
Last season is a year McLouth wants to put in his rearview mirror and forget about. He hit only .190 and had six home runs and 24 RBI in 242 at bats. His on base percentage was only .298.
Coming into last season McLouth was a .260 carreer hitter, so his batting average dipped 70 points from his career norm.
So that begs the question: Did McLouth simply have a bad season, or is this a trend that a decent player is on the decline at the young age of 29?
McLouth was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2008 with Pittsburgh. So Gonzalez knows there is talent there. That's why the Braves acquired him almost two years ago. So perhaps Gonzalez is simply doing everything possible to give McLouth a chance to find himself (and his talent) again.
Gonzalez may also be trying to take advantage of McLouth's speed. Having Prado, who was an on base machine (.362) last year once he got into the leadoff spot, and McLouth at the top may set the table for the middle of the order.
Plus, we've got to remember now that Dan Uggla, a right-handed power-hitter, is in the lineup, the first few spots in the order are critical.
If McLouth were to not hit second in the order, there's a chance he would be dropped to seventh, or even eighth in the order. Maybe Gonzalez feels it will be more possible for McLouth to get his swing back if he has Chipper Jones behind him in the lineup, compared to having the pitcher behind him if he were to hit eighth.
McLouth has 201 plate appearances in his career as the number two hitter in a lineup. He's hit .260 with 11 home runs, 29 RBI, a .350 OBP and 10 stolen bases in that spot.
Compare that to when McLouth has hit third, when he's batted .264 with 11 home runs and 56 RBI in 428 plate appearnces. His main spot has been as the leadoff man, and McLouth has hit .255 with a .342 OBP in the top position in an order.
One of the dangers of moving McLouth to second is a potential negative in moving Jason Heyward down in the order.
Now, it might make Heyward more of a run producer, but do you want to move a guy that had a .393 OBP down into the middle three of the order? Sure, he might get more RBI opportunities, but will Heyward getting perhaps one less at bat per game hurt the offense?
It's doubtful Heyward will hit fourth or fifth, with Brian McCann and Uggla filling those spots. Sure, he'll hit higher if McCann is taking the day off, but if Heyward doesn't hit second, he'll likely hit sixth in the lineup.
He won't hit third, and neither will McLouth. That's where Chipper Jones will remain until he proves he can't hit there any longer. But if Jones were to struggle, expect Gonzalez to quickly move Heyward up higher in the order.
The presence of McLouth in the two hole is interesting, and it's already paid off. He had two hits on Monday, which is far better than he did for most of his 2010 exhibition season.
Gonzalez will continue to tinker with the linuep, but if McLouth continues to show progress (i.e. he can hit again), expect him to stay high in the batting order.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and The Atlanta Baseball Talk Show. Shanks writes columns for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
Should Nate McLouth bat second?
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