5/4/2013 12:48 A.M. ET
Eckstein says slumping offense must do 'little things'
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson isn't the only one who is frustrated by the team's scuffling offense. Hitting coach Rick Eckstein is not happy that the club ranks near the bottom in almost every offensive category. What's the problem?
"We are not putting it together. We are very inconsistent. We are doing little things that don't put the advantage in our favor," Eckstein said after Friday night's 3-1 loss to the Pirates. "We just need to do little things. We are running into outs on the bases. It hurts our offense. We need to do a better job at doing the little things and being more consistent at the plate and not missing our pitches."
It's going to take more than early hitting practice to solve the problems at the plate, according to Eckstein.
"Sometimes, the solution is just mentally making sure that you are doing the little things when game time comes. You put yourself in the position to be successful," Eckstein said. "A lot of good things have happened, but it is overshadowed by little things. We need to take care of those little things and continue to work like we are working. Just put it together and get us on that rhythm. We know what we are capable of. Nobody is doubting that. It's just a matter of putting it together and taking that next step."
Zimmerman 'rusty' in return to Nats' lineup
PITTSBURGH -- Before Friday's game against the Pirates, the Nationals activated third baseman Ryan Zimmerman from the 15-day disabled list and optioned third baseman Anthony Rendon to Double-A Harrisburg.
Zimmerman, who was sidelined with a left hamstring strain, hit cleanup and struck out four times, including three whiffs against Pittsburgh right-hander A.J. Burnett.
"He was awfully rusty, but he will be fine," manager Davey Johnson said.
Zimmerman didn't have any excuses on his rough night at the plate.
"I just didn't play well," Zimmerman said. "Burnett made good pitches. I never hit A.J. well. Hopefully, I'll start to. He made good pitches. It's kind of how it went."
Zimmerman said he was ready to play even though he made only one rehab start for Class A Potomac. Zimmerman said he was able to "run and do things normally."
"It's not like I couldn't hit or do things for a long time. It was good to get into one game and see some pitches," Zimmerman said. "The hitting stuff has been pretty quick for me. To be able to keep throwing, keep taking ground balls and miss only three days of doing nothing made it a lot easier to come back quicker."
It marked the third year in a row -- and fourth overall -- that Zimmerman has landed on the DL. He said he wouldn't do anything differently as far as getting ready for the season.
"There is nothing you can really do. My body has felt great every year. I've done the same thing in the offseason than I've done in the past. It's just a matter of playing games," Zimmerman said. "Unfortunately, the last three years, it kind of got me a little bit. Hopefully, after this -- for the next eight, 10 years, however long I play -- we don't have to talk about it anymore."
Before the injury, Zimmerman was hitting .226 with one home run and 11 RBIs.
As for Rendon, he was 6-for-25 (.240) with one RBI in eight games.
Werth won't play against Pirates this weekend
PITTSBURGH -- Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth will miss the three-game series against the Pirates because of a tight right hamstring injury, according to manager Davey Johnson. Werth will not be available to pinch-hit, but is not expected to go on the disabled list.
Werth will likely get treatment during the series in Pittsburgh and hopes to play against the Tigers when the clubs open a series Tuesday at Nationals Park.
Werth hurt the hamstring and his ankle Monday against the Braves. He played Thursday, but was taken out after the fourth inning.
Slumping Espinosa back in lineup
PITTSBURGH -- Manager Davey Johnson put second baseman Danny Espinosa back in the Nationals' lineup on Friday.
Before the game, Johnson said he had a conversation with Espinosa, basically telling him to relax and display his talent. The previous two games, Johnson started Steve Lombardozzi at second.
"As long as he stays within himself, doesn't expand, doesn't swing at balls out of the zone, I expect him to have a good series," Johnson said about Espinosa.
Johnson danced around the question about whether Espinosa was going to be his regular second baseman. Washington's skipper responded by saying he needed all 25 guys in order to win and that Espinosa wasn't the only one who was in a slump.
Entering Friday's action, Espinosa was hitting .173 (14-for-81) with two home runs and six RBIs. In the fourth inning, Espinosa singled in Adam LaRoche for Washington's lone run in a 3-1 loss.
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.