WASHINGTON -- Entering Monday's action against the Braves, the Nationals were fifth in the National League with a .258 team batting average. That's a vast improvement from the previous two years, when they finished in the bottom five in this category.
What the difference this year? The team has a new philosophy about hitting compared to when Jim Riggleman was the manager. According to Johnson, there were too many hitters trying to hit the ball to the opposite field, and it made the players vulnerable on inside pitches. Johnson made it clear that hitting coach Rick Eckstein did not have this philosophy. Eckstein, who was not available for comment, was often overruled by the previous regime.
Like Johnson, Eckstein wanted the players to hit the ball where it is pitched, which they are doing. Players such as Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth have been consistent with the bat all year, while Danny Espinosa is having a great second half of the season, hitting .303 since the All-Star break entering Monday's action.
"To a man, we got a little too much concerned about hitting the ball the other way," Johnson said. "I think the regime before liked everybody to go the other way. We really couldn't handle fastballs [inside]. We didn't hit the ball where it was pitched. We have the talent to hit the ball where it was pitched, but we were a little defensive. ... We had the book on us. ... 'Pound them in with hard stuff,' and we weren't able to do much.
"Rick Eckstein has done a great job and got them to stay inside, hit the ball where it was pitched. They don't have to cheat to get to the fastball. Just become better hitters. We are not 100 percent where we need to be. We still have certain hitters who still have lapses going back. I call it a defensive swing, a longer swing, when we face a really good pitcher. Unless we are in that attack mode, we can be pitched to."
Nats' top pick Giolito has ailing right elbow
WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Lucas Giolito, the Nationals' first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, has elbow soreness, according to general manager Mike Rizzo, and is being re-evaluated by Dr. Lewis Yocum in California.
Giolito's fastball has been clocked as high as 100 mph, and he has a power curveball, but he endured right elbow problems earlier this year, spraining his ulnar collateral ligament. Giolito would have been a higher pick if not for the injury. Giolito had been pitching for the Gulf Coast League Nationals.
"It's the same injury as he had prior to the Draft," Rizzo said. "We knew when we drafted him that this was an issue. We were comfortable with the fact that the worst-case scenario is Tommy John surgery, and we'll see if that's where we're headed. Going into this with our eyes wide open, we felt that this was a scenario and a possibility.
"If he needs surgery, we're going to give him the surgery. There's no sense in delaying it. We're in the process of getting a second opinion [about whether] he needs the surgery."
During the Rizzo era, the Nationals have had their share of pitchers -- Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann to name two -- who have had Tommy John surgery and have come back to become successful pitchers.
"[The Nationals] are not worried. If [Giolito] had shoulder problems, then I would worry," said a person with knowledge of the situation.
Cesar Izturis passed through waivers and has elected to become a free agent. He played in five games for Washington and went 2-for-4 with four runs scored. He was claimed off waivers from the Brewers on Aug. 6. The Nationals had hoped Izturis would take some time off, sharpen his skills, and then they would have brought him back to the big leagues on Sept. 1.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.