6/10/2013 1:30 P.M. ET
Eckstein trying to get Nats' bats out of a funk
By Bill Ladson and Tom Schad / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- After Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Twins, Nationals manager Davey Johnson acknowledged that he was frustrated mostly because of the team's offense, which ranks near the bottom of almost every category in the Majors.
Imagine how hitting coach Rick Eckstein feels. He is the first to say the team is not producing offensively. Eckstein talked about how the Nationals had a chance to score in the fifth inning. Roger Bernadina led off with a double, but he only made it as far as third base, as Kurt Suzuki grounded out, Gio Gonzalez flied out to right and Denard Span struck out to end the threat. The Nationals went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position for the day.
There are times when the players are overaggressive and swinging at pitches that are not in the strike zone. There are also times where the players are tentative at the plate. They sometimes take pitches they should swing at.
"We are putting ourselves in situations to score more runs, and we are not doing it," Eckstein said. "We have to do a better job producing. As the hitting coach, I feel I'm charge of that and have a hand in that. By and large, I need to do a better job. We are all in this together. We are a team, and I think everybody feels responsible.
"Again, as the hitting coach, the so-called leader of the offense, I have to do a better job with a better message or a better game plan. That's the way I look at it at the end of the night. I don't doubt myself in the preparation and the process. I put my best foot forward every day, I give it my best. At the end of the day, it about production."
What can the Nationals do to improve the offense? It's a combination of things. They can utilize every resource they can -- look at video, take advice of the coaches and manager around them and take advantage of the message that is being delivered. What is the message?
"Each guy gets a different one. ... Each guy has a different way of going about it.," Eckstein said. "But the message overall is get on pitches in the zone you are comfortable [with] and very good [at hitting]. Get on those pitches. Don't sit back and take pitches and think that working the count is going to be the end all, save all. Get on those pitches, trust yourself and the work that you put in."
Eckstein has the support of Johnson, who recently told a radio station, "If you fire [Eckstein], you might as well fire me." The duo has the same philosophy when it comes to hitting: Hit the ball where it's pitched.
"Davey has been a great advocate and mentor towards me." Eckstein said. "I know the work that I put in. I know what I talk about. I know what I think about. I know how I treat these guys on a day in, day out basis. At the end of the day, I talk to Davey every day. I get his perspective. 'What do you see? What do you think, What do you feel.' ... At the end of the day, it's about production. I feel confident in the things that we talk about, the things that we work on, how we go about it. At the end of the day, I feel real good about it. But, again, it goes back to production. We either produce or we don't. That's the hardest part about the seat that I sit in."
After Sunday's doubleheader against the Twins, the Nationals go to Colorado to play a three-game series against the Rockies. Eckstein's wife, Caroline, reminded him that it was in Colorado where the Nationals were able to get out of their hitting slump last year.
"I feel very strongly about this group. I know this group very well. Yeah, we are battling some injuries, but all in all we are still a good group. It's just a matter of getting on that good page and staying on that page. But, again, it comes back to me."
Nationals recall Marrero for doubleheader; option Moore
WASHINGTON -- Needing a 26th man for Sunday's doubleheader, the Nationals recalled first baseman Chris Marrero from Triple-A Syracuse. But after a pair of wins against the Twins, manager Davey Johnson revealed that Marrero would be with the team a little while longer.
The Nationals optioned backup first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore to Syracuse after Sunday night's win in order to get the 26-year-old more regular at-bats.
"I had a talk with him. We just need to get him some playing time," Johnson said. "I don't want to waste that talent just sitting around. I'd rather have him [get] some playing time.
"He'll be back soon. He's an outstanding player. But [I] just want to kind of get him freshened up."
Moore said that he understood the team's reasoning.
"It's tough leaving the team, especially after two wins," Moore said. "But I know Davey and [general manager Mike Rizzo] have the best interest in me and this team. And that needs to be the move right now."
Moore hit .158 this season while receiving sporadic playing time with the Nationals. He singled in the eighth inning of Game 1 on Sunday in his last at-bat before the move.
Moore's demotion creates a new opportunity for Marrero, who returned to Washington on Sunday morning after playing 31 games with the Nationals at the end of the 2011 season. The 24-year-old was slated to be Adam LaRoche's backup at first base last season, but he tore his left hamstring while playing in the Dominican Winter League in November '11. The injury was fairly severe, with the hamstring muscle completely torn off the bone.
Marrero said that his leg feels 100 percent healthy. In a way, overcoming that injury has made his return to the Nationals that much sweeter.
"I worked hard to get here. It was a long road coming back, and I'm happy to be here," Marrero said. "I just think once the leg was fully healed and the strength was back, it was just getting my consistent at-bats. Last year, it wasn't fully healed and I tried playing through it, and it was tough. But like I said, now I feel 100 percent."
Marrero, who was the Nationals' first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, was hitting .306 in 55 games at Syracuse, with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs.
"He's always been a good hitter with some power, and just had trouble keeping himself healthy to play, to get 550 at-bats a season," Rizzo said. "We've always felt if he were to get that, he'd be a good, productive offensive player for us."
Rizzo: Second opinions are protocol
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson said earlier this week that outfielder Bryce Harper would visit orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews to get a second opinion on the nagging bursitis in the 20-year-old's left knee. But there was something about seeing Andrews, a renowned specialist who recently reconstructed the knee of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, that caused alarm.
General manager Mike Rizzo said that Harper's visit is just protocol.
"There's no worry about [Harper's knee]," Rizzo said. "It is our protocol that players get a second opinion on any part of the body that we feel is a disabled list-type of injury. Guys get second opinions all the time here, and every guy that we put on the disabled list has gotten a second opinion.
"James Andrews, we utilize him for our knees. When there was a hand injury, we didn't send [anyone] to James Andrews. We sent him to a hand specialist for a second opinion. That didn't make any headlines, but it's protocol."
Harper, who is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, flew to Pensacola, Fla., on Sunday and will meet with Andrews on Monday morning. The reigning National League Rookie of the Year will rejoin the team in Colorado on Tuesday.
Span held out of lineup for Game 1 of twin bill
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson kept Denard Span out of his lineup for Game 1 of Sunday's doubleheader, after the center fielder fouled a ball off his right foot on Saturday. Span returned to the lineup in his usual leadoff spot for Game 2.
Span injured his foot in the 10th inning of the 4-3 loss to the Twins, and X-rays on his foot came back negative. The Nationals' leadoff hitter also fouled a ball off his right foot against the Pirates on May 3.
"Same foot," Span said. "I took a day off from that, and I was fine, but I could still feel it at times. I'll be OK. It's not a fracture, there's nothing broken. It's just a little swelling, a little pain. I'll be all right."
Johnson brings team together before Game 1 victory
WASHINGTON -- Saturday night's extra-innings loss to the Twins left Nationals manager Davey Johnson frustrated. The Nationals had scored 14 runs in their past seven games, and they hadn't scored three runs in any of them. So Johnson said it was time for a team meeting.
"It wasn't much of a speech," right-hander Jordan Zimmermann said. "It was more just story time."
Whatever it was, it worked. After Johnson spoke Sunday morning, the Nationals put up seven runs and 14 hits en route to a 7-0 shutout. They hadn't scored seven runs in a game since May 28.
"He just told a story from back when he was playing, just to relax and have fun and just go out there," Zimmermann said. "We've been hitting the ball, [we] just haven't been driving runs in and we were able to do that today."
When asked about the content of the speech, second baseman Anthony Rendon (2-for-3, three RBIs) said it was pretty simple.
"Swing," Rendon said. "I mean, just be aggressive. That's basically what he was trying to say. Go out there and try to hit."
Johnson rarely has team meetings. He has only had one other such meeting this year, before the Nationals' 5-4 win against the Pirates on May 4.
"I'll have one every day if we get 14 hits and seven runs," Johnson said. "It wasn't much of a meeting. Just about three minutes. Just cheered 'em up. … I don't get mad at those guys."
Kobernus notches first Major League base hit
WASHINGTON -- Sure, it was only a slow chopper down the third-base line. But after Jeff Kobernus beat out Eduardo Escobar's throw to first, that slow chopper became the first hit in the Nationals utility man's Major League career.
"It was nice to get it out of the way," Kobernus said. "[The ball] is probably going to end up on my family's mantel, or something like that. Or maybe mine, I don't know, if I ever get a house."
Kobernus made his first Major League start in Game 1 of Sunday's doubleheader, leading off and playing center field. He reached base three times, collecting two hits and a walk.
Kobernus got his first hit in the third inning, but he squandered the opportunity by rounding second base on a fly ball with one out and getting doubled up by center fielder Aaron Hicks. He said he was stealing second and didn't get a good jump on the ball.
Besides that gaffe, however, Kobernus played well. He looked comfortable at the plate and in center, where he said he had played only 15 games or so while at Triple-A Syracuse.
"Yeah, it definitely feels good to be able to help the team win," Kobernus said. "That's what it's all about."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He can also be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Schad. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.