Lind gives Nationals’ bench swing in production
Hitting .300, providing pop in first full-time reserve role
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.
Washington Nationals reserve first baseman Adam Lind entered Tuesday with a .859 OPS, his best since 2009.