SURPRISE, Ariz. -- So much of Ron Washington’s managerial style is built on feel. That’s not to say he doesn’t look at the numbers -- he does that more than many folks think. But Washington also goes with his gut and what he sees, more than many skippers in the big leagues.
Washington’s eyes are a big reason that Prince Fielder is hitting third instead of fourth. You might expect the opposite, allowing the right-handed hitting Beltre to hit before the lefty Fielder with another righty in Alex Rios hitting fifth. Fielder has also played the bulk of his career in the cleanup spot, where he’s been extremely productive.
But Washington must decide what’s best for both players and his decision is just as much based on Beltre as it is Fielder. That’s why when he was asked about the ordering again Wednesday, he didn’t mince words.
“I’m just not moving Beltre out of the fourth hole,” Washington said.
There are a few reasons for that. But the biggest is that Washington has seen Beltre scuffle in the 3-hole. It doesn’t matter that Beltre is a career .281 hitter in that spot. In just 54 plate appearances as the No. 3 hitter in Texas, Beltre has hit just .196. Those are the at-bats that Washington remembers.
After batting .315 with 30 homers and 92 RBIs, mainly as a cleanup hitter in 2013, Beltre isn’t going anywhere -- even with Fielder’s bat joining the lineup.
“That’s fine with me,” Fielder said Wednesday. “I don’t have any problems with it. Hitting in front of Beltre, that’s not a bad thing. I am not going to argue about it.”
Washington also wants to give Fielder a chance to be the “protectee instead of the protector” in the lineup. Fielder has hit behind three straight MVP winners -- Miguel Cabrera in Detroit the last two years and Ryan Braun in Milwaukee in 2011.
There’s another reason for Washington ordering the batters the way he did: Beltre’s ability to hit bad balls.
You see, a pitcher could consider pitching carefully around both Fielder and Beltre. But Beltre doesn’t make that easy. A pitcher can throw the pitch he wants -- and well off the plate -- and Beltre could make him pay. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Beltre was third in the AL in batting average (.266) and RBIs (27) on pitches out of the zone.
“If there’s anybody that’s good protection for Fielder, it’s a bad ball hitter,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “You can’t just pitch around them. They’re going to have a tough middle of the order to hit, period. It makes sense the way they’re doing it.”
Washington didn’t look like a guy who was going to change his mind about his order Wednesday, adding that it’s “set in stone.” Only injuries would alter things for Washington.
His eyes tell him this is the way to go. He’s learned to trust them.
Brandon Mendoza of ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.