Lind gives Na­tion­als’ bench swing in pro­duc­tion

Hit­ting .300, pro­vid­ing pop in first full-time re­serve role

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Adam Lind’s ar­rival to the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ ros­ter forced him into a back cor­ner of the spring train­ing club­house in West Palm Beach, Florida. That was the sec­tion re­served for sec­ond-chance vet­er­ans filled with spring hope and crossed fin­gers. He was signed just be­fore spring train­ing be­gan, send­ing him back to that lost part of the club­house.

Lind, 34, thought a job would come his way, even if it took a while. Power al­ways has been a sought-af­ter com­mod­ity, and Lind al­ways has had it. Em­ploy­ment was in­evitable. At least, that’s what he thought prior.

By the time Lind ar­rived in West Palm Beach, re­serve in­cum­bent Clint Robin­son had been at the fa­cil­ity for weeks. He showed up early, per usual, push­ing to do a lit­tle more dur­ing a ca­reer that was of­ten spent in the glam­our-free mi­nor leagues. Robin­son had been Wash­ing­ton’s left-handed pinch-hit­ter and first base fill-in for two sea­sons. He hoped not to re­lin­quish the spot.

By the end of spring, Robin­son was placed on waivers be­fore agree­ing to go to Triple-A Syra­cuse. The Na­tion­als kept Lind on the ros­ter. It has been one of their shrewdest ros­ter moves of the sea­son.

Com­ing into Tues­day night’s game against the Mi­ami Mar­lins, Lind was hit­ting .300. His OPS is .859, ap­proach­ing the .932 mark he put to­gether in 2009 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Lind hit a ca­reer-high 35 home runs that sea­son.

Lind won­dered in the spring how be­com­ing a full­time bench player would work for him. He had hit 20 or more home runs six times in a sea­son and had more than 400 at-bats in half of his ma­jor-league sea­sons. This time, he would play when Ryan Zim­mer­man needed a day off or Na­tion­als man­ager Dusty Baker needed a foil for a geared-up re­liever who was throw­ing 98 mph.

“I just try to be com­fort­able and re­laxed as I can,” Lind said. “It’s a weird role. I try to take the pres­sure off, but when­ever I hit, it’s like two outs in the eighth or ninth. I try not to think about the sit­u­a­tion. I just know when the pitcher’s spot is com­ing up, be ready at that mo­ment.”

Again and again when ex­plain­ing his ap­proach, Lind men­tions try­ing to re­lieve the pres­sure of mo­ments an­chored in ten­sion. In the fifth in­ning, he heads to the bat­ting cages with the other bench play­ers to start warm­ing up. Lind hits soft toss and against live pitch­ing there. He needs to be sweat­ing be­fore reach­ing the plate.

“It’s not like the first pitch is 88 any­more,” Lind said. “You’ve got to be ready to go at 98, 96 mph. There’s no get­ting loose for a swing. You’ve got to be ready to rock.”

Baker has tried to op­ti­mize Lind’s po­tency from the left side. Like most left-handed power hit­ters, Lind is more suc­cess­ful against a right-handed pitcher. Lind has 170 plate ap­pear­ances against right-handed pitch­ers this sea­son and 17 against left-handed pitch­ers. His .305 av­er­age against right-handed pitch­ers makes it clear that fac­ing them leads to his op­ti­mum us­age. Mon­day night, he was sent to the plate against Mi­ami

left-han­der Jar­lin Gar­cia. Left-han­ders have just a .188 av­er­age against Gar­cia.

But Lind was able to drive in the ty­ing run with a sin­gle through the mid­dle.

“Lind can hit the fast­ball,” Baker said af­ter the game.

The matchups back­ground had lost to that sim­ple fact.

Wash­ing­ton is Lind’s fourth team in as many sea­sons (“You just blend in, man,” Lind said). He won­dered in spring train­ing where base­ball’s lust for power hit­ters had gone. On-base per­cent­age and other met­rics had ap­peared to erode de­mand for home run hit­ters, at least in the sense that they used to be pre­sented. Lind’s on-base per­cent­age had al­ways been near his bat­ting av­er­age. He strikes out more than twice as much as he walks. Homers were the core of his brand and he needed to fig­ure out how to bring that to pinch-hit­ting and spot starts. He has.

Lind does not watch video of the op­pos­ing pitcher. His ap­proach is much more of the see-strike, hit-strike va­ri­ety, an in­creas­ingly rare sim­pli­fi­ca­tion in this sta­tis­ti­cal age. This sea­son, it works for him.

“Just re­lax, not let the sit­u­a­tion get in my head and like [I] have to get a hit,” Lind said. “I have one at-bat out of the 27 outs. I’m just a small fac­tor in the out­come of the game.”

His suc­cess has been no­ticed. Max Scherzer lauded him Mon­day night af­ter Lind’s hit tied the game. Bryce Harper, who could be on track to a sec­ond MVP award, had am­ple kind words for Lind.

“He’s one of the best pro­fes­sional hit­ters I’ve ever seen,” Harper said. “Be­ing able to put to­gether the at-bats that he does, the nights he doesn’t play in and when he does play. He could prob­a­bly go to the lake for about a week and a half, and then come back and prob­a­bly get three knocks for us if he re­ally wanted to.”

Such is the leg­end of Lind around the Na­tion­als in early Au­gust. He hit a two-run, go-ahead home run on Open­ing Day in his first swing for the Na­tion­als. Lind bash­fully went to the top steps that evening for a cur­tain call. He’s hit­ting .300 five months later for a first-place team that chose his power back in the spring. He needed a job. They needed pop. So far, so good.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als re­serve first base­man Adam Lind en­tered Tues­day with a .859 OPS, his best since 2009.

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