HOUSTON -- Washington manager Jim Riggleman shuffled his lineup slightly for Monday's game in Houston.Riggleman moved center fielder Nyjer Morgan, his traditional leadoff man, down to No. 2 in the batting order. Second baseman Cristian Guzman batted first for the Nationals and led off the game with a double and later scored on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly. "It's just to give him a different feel," Riggleman said of batting Morgan second. "I've done this a couple of times. He hasn't been getting on base. They're slightly under the radar this way." After a solid April, Morgan did not hit well in May. Going into Monday's game, he batted .202 for the month and scored just nine runs in 26 games. "If he's pressing, that's his makeup," Riggleman said. "There's nothing you can do about it other than play yourself out of it."
Nats' offense running into tough pitching
HOUSTON -- Nationals manager Jim Riggleman offered a logical explanation for his team's recent lack of offense."[Braves manager] Bobby Cox put into words [how] I feel about our club," Riggleman said. "We're just running into some tough pitching every night. Bobby said the same thing. It's not that we can't hit. Every night, a guy is throwing a heck of a game against us. We've run into a little stretch like that. It's not just the starters. San Diego's bullpen, San Francisco's bullpen pitched well against us." Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman agreed. "I don't know if it's our offense," he said. "We've just run into some tough pitching. We faced some tough pitching in San Francisco and San Diego. You get [Tim] Lincecum and [Barry] Zito in San Francisco. Nobody's been scoring runs on San Diego." "Offense comes and goes," Riggleman said. "Earlier in the year, the Phillies were knocking the cover off the ball. Atlanta was really struggling. The Mets weren't hitting. The Marlins were hitting. Right now, the Phillies are having trouble scoring runs, Atlanta's hitting, the Mets are hitting, Florida and us are struggling to score runs." Riggleman said he believes fewer runs is more of a trend in baseball than an aberration. "I have a feeling the game is going more and more that way," he said. "We're going to see more and more lower scoring games, scratching out runs. Maybe the weather will heat up tomorrow, and I'll be wrong.
"We're moving more in that direction. We've seen two perfect games already this year. The best hitting team in the National League is Cincinnati, and [Houston's Felipe] Paulino shut them down [Sunday] in a good hitter's ballpark."
Winning breeds different aura for Nats
HOUSTON -- Baseball is becoming a game again for the Nationals, instead of drudgery. After averaging 96 losses a season for the past four years, the Nationals are finally for real, trailing first-place Philadelphia by only four games in the National League East."The last two or three years have been tough," said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, in his fifth full season with Washington. "It's kind of fun to see how far we've come. We were a young team the last few years, [you] see everyone grow up and mature together. [Stephen] Strasburg is on the way. It's fun to become a competitive team. A couple of years ago, it wasn't, you had no chance. But it's fun coming to the park now." Second baseman Adam Kennedy is another veteran who believes in the Nationals. "I don't think you're happy until you're in first place at the end of the year," Kennedy said. "We've been in every game. It's better than being blown out." Manager Jim Riggleman is certainly enjoying it. "It's a lot more interesting to come to the ballpark when the games have some meaning, not just for individuals, but for the team," Riggleman said. "You want to be playing meaningful games late in the year. We're not late in the year, but to this point, we're playing meaningful games. We can't play at the pace we're playing now and win the division. But we know we can play better than what we've played. The upside is, we're in the mix."
Nats' lineup welcomes Minute Maid
HOUSTON -- The Nationals have scored no more than two runs in three of their past six games. They hoped that a change in venue, beginning with a four-game series Monday at Minute Maid Park, might give their offense a boost."It's a great place to play," said Washington second baseman Adam Kennedy. "It's the climate control. It's a little bit of a hitter's park. That's two pretty good things for a hitter. I love it." Kennedy could offer no explanation for the Nationals' recent lack of offense. "You try to figure it out," he said. "Just keep plugging away. Pretty much the whole month we haven't got the offense together. [Our] pitching's been great. We're just not hitting enough. Period. The offense is definitely there. It will start coming around. " Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was glad to be back in Houston. "It's a good place to hit," he said. "Obviously, facing a guy like Roy [Oswalt in Monday's game] makes it a little tougher. I like hitting inside. There's no variables. Obviously, left field is short. But I think the ball flies to right and right-center. If you're hitting well, that's where you want to hit the ball anyway. You definitely don't want to pull everything. You get out of your game."
Travel's all part of the game
HOUSTON -- Life can be tough when you have to work overtime Sunday, fly halfway across the country and then go to work early the next day.The Nationals did exactly that this weekend, losing an 11-inning, three-hour and 37-minute game, 3-2, in San Diego on Sunday, then flying to Houston, arriving at their hotel around midnight for an early Memorial Day game. "You're not really going to sleep before midnight anyway," said Nationals second baseman Adam Kennedy, declining any ready-made excuse before the game. "We got in at a decent hour, got some sleep and we're ready to go," added third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Manager Jim Riggleman didn't want to hear any excuses, either. "It was not too bad," Riggleman said of the Nationals' travel. "We played extra innings yesterday, so we got out of there an hour later than we would have. Hopefully, everybody got a good night's sleep and is ready to go." This is Washington's third city on this road trip, following stops in San Francisco and San Diego. "Every now and then, there's a legitimate, really tough situation, 20 straight days, night game on the road and a day game the next day," Riggleman said. "We rationalize sometimes. This is tough. It's all relative, compared to the real workload that people have. I'm not playing the game, so I shouldn't speak for the players. But I downplay it as much as possible, letting the word 'tired' slip into people's vocabulary."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.