Lind prepares for time on the bench

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — First baseman Adam Lind has a distinct look, wandering into the Nationals clubhouse in skinny jeans and flashy sunglasses, a few tattoos showing and his face framed by a goatee. Some might think he has an intimidating presence, until they talk to Lind, who is rather soft-spoken and has faded into the background in the clubhouse during the first few weeks of his Nationals tenure.

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Photo Credit: Washington Post

“I never really thought what people think,” Lind said when asked about the disconnect between the loud physical image and the softer personality. “I just live my life.”

Lind’s career has included 11 big league seasons, six 20-homer seasons and stops in Toronto, Milwaukee and Seattle. His journey began in Indiana, where he went to high school in a city of roughly 55,000, left to play college baseball at the University of South Alabama, then got drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2004. Eventually, that led him to nine seasons in Toronto, where he fell in love.

“I’ll always go back to Canada. I love that place,” Lind said, whose wife is Canadian, along with two of his three children who were born there.

“That’s where I grew up. I matured a lot. I learned a lot about the world in Toronto,” Lind said. “My diet expanded tenfold. As a kid from Indiana, you’re eating meat and potatoes. All of a sudden I’m eating Thai food and high-end Chinese food. The real stuff.”

Before the 2015 season, the Blue Jays traded Lind to Milwaukee, and he spent 2016 with Seattle. Far from his offseason home in Tampa and adopted home in Toronto, both teams spend spring training in Arizona. For Lind, Washington represents a solid middle ground, not too far from Canada, but with an easy flight to Tampa, too.

Lind did not have the luxury of prioritizing geography when choosing a team this offseason by his own admission. The 33-year-old saw the market for big, power-hitting first baseman collapse at an inopportune time and signed on with the Nationals for a role he is not used to: full-time bench duties.

Since 2009, Lind has played in at least 90 games in every season, and at least 125 games in six of the past eight seasons. He is typically the more-relied-upon member of the platoon, with a career .849 OPS against righties, while he is used to platooning. Only 21 players have a higher OPS against right-handed pitching than Lind does since 2009. All but one of them (Shin-Soo Choo) has been an all-star at least once. Most of them, like Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera and others are MVP types. Unless Ryan Zimmerman struggles, Lind seems unlikely to be part of the Nationals, and he knows it.

“Everyone’s counted on the roster, but I’m a bench piece, so I’m not quite as counted on,” Lind said. “The whole goal for me in spring training is to feel comfortable, and I’m starting to get to that point in the box and playing with the guys around me.”

Lind said he is getting to know Chris Heisey and Stephen Drew, who he assumes he will spend most of his time with during the season. He hasn’t asked them for tips about coming off the bench yet, though his .309 average as a pinch hitter suggests he might not need many. The biggest adjustment so far is playing the second half of spring training games he used to start, said Lind. Because the Nationals are trying to see what they have in him, Lind said he is getting more spring training at-bats than he usually does.

The lefty is off to a slow start so far, his average hovering around .200 and his big power stifled so far. Dusty Baker said the Nationals will have to evaluate Lind as much on track record as these few weeks of spring training action as they decide whether he will seize the backup first baseman spot Clint Robinson occupied since 2015.

“We know what Clint can do,” Baker said Wednesday. “We’ve heard what Lind can do.”

For now, they must wait and see.

Kelly Haberstroh

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