WASHINGTON -- With Denard Span returning from the 7-day disabled list on Saturday, it meant a return to the bench for Nationals outfielder Nate McLouth, who had started the past four games.
Despite the increased playing time, McLouth's early season struggles continued. The 32-year-old, who signed a two-year deal with Washington this winter, went 0-for-13 during his four starts. The veteran is 2-for-26 (.077) overall, with one double and four walks.
Nats manager Matt Williams has noticed McLouth hitting the ball in the air more than usual, such as during the club's games earlier this week at spacious Marlins Park. Indeed, McLouth has hit 57.1 percent of his batted balls in the air this season, according to FanGraphs.com. His career mark is 41.7 percent, including 36.6 percent last season.
"I've seen barrel to baseball, but there's been a lot of fly balls, which is uncommon for him," Williams said. "It's not very characteristic of him.
"He's just working on having his trajectory come down a little bit, because [Marlins Park] is a big park, ours is a big park when it's cold, so he's working at bringing it down a little bit. He works hard every day. He's seeing a lot of pitches, he's barreling the baseball. That's all good. It's a matter of time before it comes."
McLouth, who signed to serve as Washington's fourth outfielder, didn't play much before Span's injury, starting only twice and getting 11 plate appearances. Now, he faces that same scenario again as he tries to get his bat going.
"He's a pro. He knows what he's doing," Williams said. "He prepares every day for whatever opportunity there may be and he understands it. He understands that on any given day, if we've got our regular outfield out there, at-bats are going to be slim. But the other side of that is if we have a hiccup like we just had ... that he can step right in."
Nats pacing Majors in bunt hits
WASHINGTON -- When Danny Espinosa pushed a perfect bunt toward second base and beat it out for a single in the second inning of Friday's game against the Cardinals, it gave the Nationals infielder his fourth bunt hit of the season in only 43 plate appearances.
By contrast, no Major League team besides the Nats finished Friday with more than three total bunt hits. Washington has eight.
Manager Matt Williams said that while sacrifices generally are called from the dugout, going for a hit is his players' prerogative.
"It's entirely up to them to view the field and feel the game, and look at what they can and can't do in that situation," Williams said.
"They're on their own to lay one down if they feel it. If the defense gives it to them, we'll let them take advantage of it, if they can. It's also a matter of setting the table for the rest of the guys, too. Creating that opportunity, and that's what we want, the opportunity."
Besides Espinosa, Bryce Harper has picked up two bunt hits, while Anthony Rendon and Denard Span both have one. Last season, Washington tied for 11th in the Majors with 19, led by Steve Lombardozzi's six.
Williams also said he has no problem with a middle-of-the-order hitter like Adam LaRoche putting one down if the defense opens up the left side of the infield with a shift.
"Yeah, [LaRoche] works on it, too," Williams said. "There may be opportunities for him to do that, as well. And he's done it before. It's part of his game."
• Williams said that closer Rafael Soriano is fine after taking a Yadier Molina ground ball off his leg while recording a save on Friday night.
• With Span returning to the leadoff spot on Saturday, Harper remained in the No. 2 hole, while Anthony Rendon moved down to fifth. Rendon had hit first in six of the past seven games and hadn't hit lower than second since April 8.
• Outfielder Brian Goodwin, the Nats' No. 3 prospect according to MLB.com, hit a walk-off single in the 11th inning to send Triple-A Syracuse to a 6-5 win over Rochester on Friday night. A 2-for-4 game lifted Goodwin's season line to .267/.400/.311, with two doubles and four RBIs.