03.31.05

Kaz Hitting Eighth?

Posted in Baseball at 12:50 am by

With Mets 2B Kaz Matsui looking overmatched at the plate this spring (.208 BA thus far, no extra base hits in 53 at bats), the New York Times’ Pat Borzi raises the possibility of the speedy import batting 8th.

Willie Randolph has batted José Reyes and Matsui first and second in his lineup throughout spring training, and a healthy Reyes has been productive, batting .328 with eight steals in eight attempts and 12 runs scored. But Randolph says the starting lineup “is not something etched in stone.”

It is a phrase he uses repeatedly when the conversation turns to the possibility of the second-year third baseman David Wright batting eighth – an eyebrow-raising spot in the lineup for a promising young power hitter who had 14 homers, 40 runs batted in and a .293 average in 69 games last year. In the future, Carlos Beltran and Wright could anchor the Mets’ lineup as the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, so the question is whether batting eighth is the proper apprenticeship for someone as valuable as Wright.

In the N.L., the No. 8 hitter, batting in front of the pitcher, can often go a long time without getting a good pitch to hit. “To me, it boils down to who’s the best guy for that spot,” Randolph said. “Everybody can have their opinion, but it’s what’s best for the ball club.

“David’s basically a rookie,” Randolph added. “We’ve all got to earn our chops.”

But what about Matsui? Is it possible that he could be dropped to the bottom of the order if he does not start hitting? Matsui has proved adept at situational hitting in recent games, collecting all five of his spring-training R.B.I. since his return. But he still walks less and strikes out more than a leadoff or No. 2 hitter should; he has only two walks in spring training and 13 strikeouts, the second most on the team and one more than Andres Galarraga had before he retired.

Randolph, who is still learning his players’ strengths and weaknesses, said Thursday that Wright, Matsui, right fielder Mike Cameron and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz were all possible candidates for the eighth spot in the order. But Randolph is likely to leave Matsui where he is for now. Matsui’s speed makes him tough to double up; he hit into only three double plays last year, the third-best ratio in the N.L. (one every 153.3 at-bats). And when he bats left-handed, he provides a shield for Reyes when he takes a lead off first base and prepares to steal.

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