PITTSBURGH -- Hopeful of giving the offense a collective boost, manager John Russell did a little switch-a-roo with his lineup for Tuesday, moving Freddy Sanchez up one spot to hit leadoff and sliding Nate McLouth down a slot to hit right behind him. "It was something we talked about as a staff," Russell said. "We thought it might be something just to change things a little bit." The thought is two-fold. To begin with, having McLouth, one of the team's biggest bats through the season's first month, further down in the order will give him the opportunity to reach base ahead of the lineup's most potent run-producing hitters.
Coming into Tuesday's series opener against the Giants, McLouth had held down the leadoff spot in the lineup in 29 of the Pirates' 31 games so far this season. Twice -- both times coming when outfielder Nyjer Morgan made a start -- McLouth batted in the third hole. He'll continue to get good pitches to hit, and if Sanchez can reach base, it will give McLouth an even better chance to continue adding to his RBI total, which stood at 25 prior to Tuesday's game. "I think you can hit Nate anywhere you want to," Russell said recently. "My vision someday is that he'd probably love to settle into the three-hole eventually. He has the ability to hit anywhere, which is a nice luxury for us to have." McLouth entered Tuesday's contest with a team-best seven homers and a .323 batting average, the second-highest mark of all National League center fielders. "I don't really mind where I hit," McLouth said. "In the leadoff spot this year is where I have fit with this team. Moving down in the order is not something that I'm hoping for or wanting, but it's fine." So while McLouth scoots down a notch in the order, Sanchez will be making his 45th career start hitting in the leadoff spot. Russell's hope is that Sanchez will take hold of that leadoff spot and practice the plate discipline indicative of a leadoff hitter. "When he's more selective, he's a better hitter, and I think putting him in the leadoff spot, he might be a little more selective as times," Russell said. "[Hopefully it will] get him going a little bit." As he did a year ago, Sanchez scuffled out of the gate this season, posting a .222 average and having scored just 10 runs through the team's most recent road trip. And even though his aggressiveness at the plate remains a strength that the coaching staff doesn't want to strip him of, it has often led to poor pitch selection already this year. Sanchez batted first six times last season, three times in 2006 and 35 times the year before and has a combined .337 batting average and .371 on-base percentage hitting first. Russell has not committed to a time frame in which he plans to use Sanchez in the leadoff spot.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.