Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leadoff Man


Maybe lost in the announcement that Lastings Milledge will begin the 2009 Season as the leadoff hitter for Our Washington Nationals is the very fact that Our Manager Manny Acta is giving Lastings responsibility--for the very first time.

Lastings Milledge has always been a great athlete. He has never been an instinctive baseball player. In every level of professional baseball in which Milledge has played so far--his managers and coaches have always just sent him out on the field. "Do your thing. Show us what you got". Sometimes Lastings Milledge has done well, shown promise and hit for power--revealing glimpses of a potentially good ball player. Other times, Milledge has shown, limited patience at the plate, poor baserunning skills and a below average tendency to field any baseball hit to him in the outfield. Deficiencies in his game that can drive any fan crazy--because you know, he can do better--if he's focused.

As of today, Lastings Milledge is no longer just playing ball. Manny officially pushing Lastings to become a more compete player.

What Our Number 14 has done this Sunday by officially naming Lastings Milledge as Our Leadoff Hitter to begin this season--is give him direction. Something he has NEVER HAD BEFORE. For the first time, Manny has publicly committed Our Number 85 to specific goals. No longer is just stepping out on the field "Doing Your Thing" acceptable anymore. It's time for Lastings Milledge to grow up.

Manny taking the one weak point in his batting order (No Leadoff Hitter) and challenging the only player currently on his roster that logically could possibly give him a positive result--consistently--at that position. Manny letting Lastings know that being just young and athletically talented is no longer just good enough. Yes Lastings, you are young and still somewhat inexperienced--but Manny Acta, obviously, believes IN YOU and expects a far more complete performance than shown previously.

Manny pressuring Lastings to not get too comfortable in his ways.

Be more selective at the plate.

Raise his On Base Percentage. Get on base more.

Be a far better, and smarter, baserunner.

Because as of today Lastings, you need to be a better team player. Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and either Nick Johnson or Elijah Dukes or Josh Willingham or Austin Kearns, all batting behind you, are going to be depending on your skills to set that proverbial baseball table from the top of the order. Yes, Lastings--it's now your responsibility to truly show what your final destiny can be in The Big Leagues. And I know your self-confidence is not lacking.

For all those hopes to pan out--Lastings needs to be less of a free swinger and a more selective hitter based on the situation at hand when he steps to the plate. Also, Milledge needs to spray the ball around the field. Not comparing Lastings to Hall Of Fame Inductee Rickey Henderson in any way--just using Henderson as an example--think of this. Rickey could hit the ball out of the park with power like Milledge can this very day. But what made Henderson dangerous was his innate ability to just get on base and create havoc once he got there. Teams worried about Rickey Henderson. Milledge could provide a lesser but similar threat--if he understands today's message sent by Our Manager.

Everybody wants to be a superstar Lastings. Every hitter out there would love to slug 30 Homers per season. But your calling my come from harnessing all your god-given athletic talents into that persona you probably never envisioned--Leadoff Man. Remember, once you become a threat at the top the lineup, you might end up getting better pitches to hit anyway. Pitches you can slam out of the park. Because the worried opposing pitcher, not wanting to walk you and allow a stolen base--might just think he can blow a fastball right past you. And at that time--You've Got Him!! You would be in control.

That is, if you fully take advantage of the opportunity thrown your way today by Our Manager Manny Acta.

Lastings--are you up to the challenge to be Leadoff Man?

Do you want to mature into a very good Major League Player?

Manny Acta's given you his trust today. Can your teammates, and Our Fans, put their trust in you?

The 2009 Season awaits--We shall find out soon enough.

PS: One more thing Lastings: Please work on those fielding skills too. Rickey Henderson wasn't the greatest outfielder either--but he worked hard enough to win one Gold Glove. Although I still believe you are better off as a corner outfielder once all is said and done.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

8 comments:

JayB said...

SBF,

Nice spin....I do not have much faith in Lastings. The Spring Training games I say last week he ran into 2 outs and misplayed count them, 5 balls in the Outfield and make 2 poor throws, on missed cut off man and one rainbow.

The problem is he just does not think these things matter....He just does not understand how winning team operate. He will be 24 soon......I just do not see growth from last year at all.....but hey, I just say a few games and practices. Time will tell, this could well be the move that cost Acta Nats Job. He will get another but if this team goes out a lays an egg in April and May......I think Rizzo will make a move quickly in order to get the job in October, they can not have another year of 2008 Lastings in CF.

Screech's Best Friend said...

JayB--Spin? You seem to be saying exactly what I wrote--spinning in the same general direction. Lastings has to prove himself, that's what this decision is all about.

Tom said...

1. JayB you and SBF are in total agreement from what I read.
2. The NCAA Tournament - good to the last drop!

JayB said...

Sorry I did not really mean spin in a negative light on your take....more I was interested, no impressed, on how you think Acta has challenged Milledge to be something more than what he was last week. I do not think he get is at all and I do not know why Acta would make this move. He would be better served in AAA for two months but maybe this is Acta's way of saying to his friend I gave you the chance before Rizzo makes the move that is needed. Much Like Hill move, I get the real sense Rizzo is not going to wait any longer on a lot of under performing 24 year olds. He wants this job and they have to be .500 or above to get it.

Screech's Best Friend said...

JayB--this decision allows Manny to judge Lastings based upon what a team's real needs may be. The opportunity to show Baseball Operations that Milledge can raise his game. Or Not. And I really believe Manny is sharper than you or others give him credit for. He's never had much talent to work with over the past few seasons here. He has a decent Major League lineup now, with some depth. And he's trying to find ways to maximize everyone's playing time with the 8 fixed positions available out there every game. It's not a terrible move--Manny has few other choices right now. Harris would be a fine lead off hitter, but he's a utility guy. If Milledge works out--great. If Lastings fails, then they know he's not the answer and can move on.

JayB said...

If that is the case then great.

What I can not accept yet again this year is a full season on NL worst CF play and Acta just sitting on his hands and telling us "hey I am teaching and preaching here”....That did not work at all with Milledge....did you see him improve on the bases? Did you see him improve his AB's, His throws, His routes?

So if Acta sends him to AAA after 30 games of more of the same as 2008 and this spring....fine....any more and I think he risks his job.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a good move. Milledge is a good bunter--I'd like to see him bung more in the leadoff spot.

In the batter's box, he often seems distracted. He gestures and makes faces like his entertaining some unseen audience. Batting leadoff should tamp down this immaturity and let him focus purely on hitting.

I think if he embraces this move and learns to concentrate we'll be fine. If he doesn't I'm sure he'll be gone, and he'll spend lots of time pointing his finger back at the bad men who coached in Washington.

SenatorNat said...

I presumed that Acta would fiddle around for a month during the regular season trying to make Anderson Hernandez into a lead-off hitter, before settling on this move. I have been in favor of this since the end of last year - two words: Kenny Lofton. Two things auger against it working, however: Nats seem jinxed by lead-off hitters not working out (although their first notion, Endy Chavez, was actually their best one in hindsight); and Donnie Warren's old number seems highly inappropriate for a lead-off hitter...

Milledge is communicating like the kid in the back of the room in 8th grade math with E. Dukes it would appear - if this keeps up, send them both to Kasten's office, I suggest...

Acta now has some range with the line-up that he may have lacked last year, as I read the tea leaves, with Bow-Bow directing that a more "classic" lead-off hitter be penciled in...Is that you Watson?

As to the right-left, right-left, right-right for the first six batters envisioned by Manny, I suggest that it might be preferable, instead, to make Johnson the third hitter and Z-Man fifth behind Adam Dunn. Against right-handers, this would amount to Right-Left (Milledge/Guzman); Left-Left-Right-Right (Johnson/Dunn/Zimmerman/Dukes)- puts your three left handed starters at bat up front in the first four, and has the better bat control guys in second and third, where they should be. Plus, should Dukes live up to his potential, his bat protects Z-Man. Small change, but an important one, I believe...

Trust in Acta naturally. And scratch your head on balls hit between Dunn and Milledge; don't count on opposing bullpen to point to the ball's whereabouts!