DENVER -- The Nationals have scored just seven runs in their last four games entering Tuesday's contest against the Rockies. It's nothing too unusual for a club with the fourth-lowest runs-per-game output in the National League (3.73).While fan frustration begins to simmer -- three of those four games have been losses, with quality starts from Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman being spoiled -- manager Davey Johnson insists that hitting coach Rick Eckstein is miscast as the scapegoat. "I don't like pointing fingers," Johnson said. "The hitting coach is there to organize the hitting times, let the hitters know what the opposing pitcher [throws]. The teaching and mechanics of the stroke -- these players are pretty finely tuned by now. I can hardly remember who my hitting coaches were. For a hitting coach to take the blame is a cop-out, passing the buck. We all feel responsible, myself included."
Eckstein is in his fourth year with the Nationals. Last season, Washington scored the fifth-fewest runs (629) in the National League. In 2010, the third-fewest (655). The 2009 season was the most productive, when the team's 710 runs was good for No. 9 in the league and eight below league average.But those were years of little expectations. The Nationals are now holding a 3 1/2 game lead in the NL East entering Tuesday's game against the Rockies, thanks to a pitching staff that ranks best in the Majors in most major categories. To sustain it, and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the bats will have to wake up soon. "I know the talent [in the lineup] is there, we just need a rash of quality at-bats," Johnson said. Injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth haven't helped, but neither has the team's lack of focus at the plate. "I don't like us getting in between," Johnson said. "You're not looking for a breaking ball and you're not looking for a fastball, and then you don't hit either. A lot of that comes from a young hitter, but I've seen it from our veterans."
As for Eckstein's approach as a coach, Johnson hasn't seen any better in his 16 years as a manager in the Majors."His approach to hitting is second to none, and I have a little experience in these lines," Johnson said. "The responsibility goes with the hitter. It's his job to get a pitch to hit, and hit it. The hitting coach can't help him. I don't know any good hitter who stepped into the box trying to remember what the hitting coach told him to do."
Desmond wins family battle vs. Roenicke
DENVER -- As far as family bragging rights go, Ian Desmond's triple off brother-in-law Josh Roenicke on Monday night was pretty good.But it could've been a bit sweeter. "Triples are cool, but homers are better," Desmond said the day after his Nationals fell to Roenicke's Rockies, 4-2. "Plus, we lost." Roenicke met Ian's sister, Nikki, in Saratoga, Fla., where the Desmond family lives, in 2006 when he was with the Cincinnati Reds for Spring Training.
They married in Dec. of 2010, and thus a myriad of competitive family battles was born. Roenicke and Desmond, who get along great, have dueled in one-on-one basketball, pool, and just about everything else, but they had never faced each other on the diamond until Monday night.Desmond got the better of Roenicke, hitting a 2-1 slider to left-center for a two-out triple in the sixth inning. "I'm mad at him for throwing me three sliders," Desmond said. "They were up, he should have challenged me." Roenicke considers it the first time he's ever been bested by his brother-in-law. "We'll argue about it, but I like to say I'm the better athlete," Roenicke said. "Ian smacked that ball, I'm glad it stayed in the park." Desmond's reaction? "Josh would say that," he said with a laugh. "But all I know is it's 1-0 at the pro level."
Trey Scott is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.