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05/21/08 8:13 PM ET

Bowden wants bats to wake up

Nationals GM has faith in young hitters, hitting coach

WASHINGTON -- Entering Spring Training, the Nationals offense was supposed to be the strength of the club because of the acquisitions of Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Paul Lo Duca, along with the return of first baseman Nick Johnson, who missed all of last season because of a right leg injury.

But entering Wednesday's action, the Nationals had a team batting average of .234, which ranked last in the Major Leagues. It doesn't help that the entire outfield, except for Milledge, has a batting average below .230.

General manager Jim Bowden acknowledged that he is shocked by the lack of offensive output, but he put a positive spin on the situation.

"I've been surprised, but we're 15-12 in our last 27 games," Bowden said. "We are playing good baseball. We are catching the ball. Our starting pitching has been really good, so that has been encouraging. We have to get the bats going. We have a lot of young hitters in the outfield that are learning and developing in the Major League level. It's going to take patience."

Even though the offense is off to a slow start, Bowden gave hitting coach Lenny Harris a vote of confidence and sees Harris as a solution to the problem. Harris has been the team's hitting coach since last May.

"Lenny works extremely hard," Bowden said. "I come down in the locker room early, he is in the video room with Lastings Milledge. He is in the cage with Elijah Dukes. When a group doesn't perform, you never point to any one person. There is enough blame to go around. The important thing is how to fix it.

"Lenny is a part of the solution. We may not have the results, but we are making progress. They look better. You haven't seen it in the game yet, but we are seeing it outside of the game. It's coming. You may see it by the end of this weekend.

To fix the hitting problems, according to Bowden, the hitters have to make adjustments at the plate.

"When you are getting a breaking ball down and away on a count you know it's going to be there, you should be able to line that ball to right field," Bowden said. "You are able to foul the ball off with two strikes a couple of times before you get the pitch you can drive."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.