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With Harper out, Nats need McLouth to get on track

Apr 28, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

AP AP

We don’t know yet how long the Nationals will be without Bryce Harper, who is getting a second opinion today on his sprained left thumb. But whether Harper misses the minimum 15 days or significantly more, the Nats do know who needs to step up in his place: Nate McLouth.

Signed in December to a two-year, $10.75 million contract for this very reason, McLouth was brought on board not only to serve as a veteran No. 4 outfielder but to be able to step in and replace any one of the Nationals’ three starting outfielders long-term in the event of injury.

Playing time for the 32-year-old has been sparse to date, and that may be one of the reasons behind his significant struggles at the plate. McLouth enters the week with only four hits in 34 at-bats, and until his ninth-inning homer Sunday he had yet to drive in a run since first donning a curly W cap.

“I felt good all day,” he said after Sunday’s game. “For the most part, I have felt halfway decent. I just wasn’t getting any results. It happens sometimes like that. You just can’t change your approach. You have to trust your process.”

McLouth has battled his way through prolonged slumps before. An All-Star with the Pirates in 2008, he found himself demoted to Class AAA only two years later after hitting .190 over half a season with the Braves.

Despite the ugly numbers so far this season, McLouth insists this stretch is nowhere near as difficult as previous ones.

“What I can tell you is I have felt better than the results have shown,” he said. “I’ve been through times when I’ve been completely lost at the plate, not seeing the ball. I’m seeing the ball fine. My swing’s not where I want it. But for the most part, I’m putting the ball in play. You just can’t get frustrated. I’m not frustrated. I’ve just got to keep with my routine and know that things will turn around.”

There is some statistical evidence to suggest McLouth has been the victim of bad luck. His .111 batting average on balls in play is off-the-charts and 166 points off his career mark. At the same time, his strikeout percentage actually is down, and his line-drive rate is right around his career norm.

Regardless of what the stats say, McLouth is trying to maintain an upbeat mental approach to his struggles. Having been through this before, he understands that mounting frustration won’t help his cause.

“Absolutely, that makes it worse,” he said late last week, before Sunday’s homer. “That compounds it if you get frustrated and start trying to change things. It’s really just a timing issue. Maybe I can throw out a blooper and get things rolling. Of course it’s frustrating, but I’m not getting down or letting it affect me. I come every day and do my routine and trust that it’ll turn around and hits will start falling.”

McLouth certainly will get plenty of opportunity to get himself going over the next two weeks, possibly more. The Nationals brought him here for this very reason. Now they have to hope he delivers the kind of insurance they figured they’d need at some point this year.

“You try to hold these guys’ places down until they get back,” McLouth said. “It’s unfortunate when guys get hurt, especially the number of guys this month that have gotten hurt and that have gone down. We’ll just try to hold it down until they get back.”

  1. Eugene in Oregon - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    This — filling in for a regular on an extended basis; not playing the odd game here or there — is why they signed Nate McLough. And why they were willing to pay him $10+m for two years. I wish him (and hope for) the best.

  2. philipd763 - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    I am very much afraid Bryce Harper, for a number of reasons, is going to end up being a big tease for Nationals fans. He has lots of potential but for a couple of reasons (lots of injuries and apparent immaturity) I doubt he every reaches his potential. Five years from now, Anthony Rendon will be a much more valuable commodity.

    • David Proctor - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:23 PM

      He’s had 2 injuries in 3 years. He played in 163 games (minors and majors combined) in 2012. Too soon to put the injury-prone label on him. He’s not exactly Wilson Ramos yet.

      • RPrecupjr - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:38 PM

        And Ramos isn’t quite Nick Johnson yet……yet

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:40 PM

        DP

        I agree, mostly. What frustrates me is that his injuries are due to what seems overly aggressive play. I know some fans like that. I don’t – it seems like be confuses recklessness with hustle.

        I’m not of the crowd that thinks that’s who he is, except in the sense that who he is is a 21 yo. He will learn. I just hope his learning curve is steeper than his injury curve.

      • David Proctor - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:02 PM

        I’m not sure I necessarily agree though. For instance, I do not believe running into the wall in LA was a case of over aggressiveness. It seemed to me that it was an inexperienced outfielder (and especially right fielder) who got lost on the field and didn’t realize the wall was there. That’s different than intentionally going into the wall to try and make the catch.

    • jd - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:13 PM

      I couldn’t disagree more. I am going to keep saying it until someone proves that what I’m saying is wrong or that it doesn’t matter: Harper at the age of 21 has better hitting numbers already in the bank than every player who ever played the game with the exception of 3 hall of famers, Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez. If this is a tease then keep on teasing.

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:36 PM

      I agree that it’s in part a question of inexperience, and I also think it’s question of how any young player deals with his inevitable inexperience.

      In my book, running full tilt trying to make a catch when he knows there’s a wall somewhere up ahead goes down as reckless, at least, if not aggressive.

      I do think he’s learning his lessons in the OF. On the basepaths, I’m less convinced.

  3. David Proctor - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    This could do wonders for McLouth, even once Harper returns. He should feel much better with his timing and such as a pinch hitter.

  4. NatsLady - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    Interesting artcle on the Cards’ slugish start.

    http://mlb.si.com/2014/04/28/st-louis-cardinals-demote-kolten-wong/

    • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:48 PM

      Thanks for posting; I would have missed that otherwise. A lot of other expected-to-be-good teams are scuffling right now (Boston, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and — in the same sense as the Nats — the Dodgers). And some of the teams that are doing well in the first month (fill in the blank with your choice, but I’m thinking the Brewers and the Rockies) are likely to be scuffling come June or July. If you assume a fairly random distribution of injuries and slumps, there’s something to be said for getting yours out of the way early in the season.

  5. rmoore446 - Apr 28, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    I continue to have confidence that McLouth will be a valuable investment. He has an air of professionalism about him.

  6. adcwonk - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    RPrecupjr made a great point (sort of re-iterated by Eugene above) – but it bears repeating (imho), and so I’m going to repeat it.

    We have the same record, 14-12, as the Cardinals and the Dodgers, neither of who is in first place in their respective divisions….

    It’s a bit early to predict the season. How early? Consider this: suppose even with all our injuries that only one thing changed: that Jordan, yesterday, didn’t get a fever and the Nats won, but keep the entire rest of the season the same. Even that 0-16 RISP one-run loss.

    Would you call the Nats a solid team in the running for 1st place?

    And yet, had they won yesterday, they’d be 15-11, which is on a pace for 93+ wins.

    So, it’s a bit early to go all LoD on us . . . That’s not to say we’re not concerned. But it is to say that it’s a tad premature to be calling for the manager’s head, or to think that the team has no spirit left in them. To say the least.

    • adcwonk - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:09 PM

      (btw, it ought to be “neither of whom“) ;-)

    • jd - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:20 PM

      Wonk and others,

      I agree with you in principal but I’d by lying if I didn’t admit that I am concerned. If Atlanta uses our current injury situation to build a large lead we will be in the same boat as last year, chasing them all year. It’s hard to see us doing any better than treading water until we get some of the key pieces back and until the players who we signed to come of the bench do just that.

      The silver lining for me is that I don’t think Atlanta can keep winning 1 run games every day. Common sense dictates that eventually you start dropping some of these decisions especially if you send out the same 3 or pitchers every night. The performance of their starting rotation is also astounding.That can’t continue. Can it?

      • David Proctor - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:30 PM

        Every member of their rotation has an ERA of under 2.40. Aaron Harang is one of the best pitchers in baseball. No, that can’t continue.

      • adcwonk - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:37 PM

        Oh, I am concerned, for sure. But there’s a heap of difference between concerned and hoping that MW gets fired. There are some positive signs; e.g., second in NL in runs cored, 4th in BA, despite missing Ramos and RZ. Second highest “SRS” (2d only to Atlanta) in all of MLB (admittedly a measure that also suffers from small sample sizes). And Nats pitching will improve (and adding Fister ought to improve it even more).

        As for the Braves, their pitching is too good to sustain (team ERA of 2.04!?!) — it will come back to earth

        So, yeah, I’m concerned. I hate being 14-12. I hate that we really missed an opportunity on this home stretch.

        (A marathon not a sprint, a marathon not a sprint, a marathon not a sprint, a marathon not a sprint, a marathon not a sprint . . . . he keeps telling himself to keep himself sane ;-) )

      • therealjohnc - Apr 28, 2014 at 4:49 PM

        The worry is that the Braves get off to such a hot start that catching them is difficult. This is what the Cardinals are facing with the Brewers, who have gotten off to an even hotter start than the Braves. While even a substantial lead can be run down, the closer the Nats can stay to the Braves while getting healthy the better.

        I respect the Braves, but they aren’t the 1998 Yankees or 2001 Mariners (or 1984 Tigers, for that matter; they started 35-5 and the division race was essentially over 122 games to play). The trick is to stay close enough so that if they have to have a final surge like they did last year, they are close enough to finish the job.

      • Natsfool - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:08 PM

        The problem with comparing the Nats to the Cards and Dodgers is that they are not chasing a playoff team in the Braves. I’m afraid Harper plays dumb ball and will never quite live up to expectations, that is, until he faces the short right porch in Yankee Stadium.

  7. natsguy - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    The marathon line was what was said last year. The goal should be to win every series not wait till you get hot in August. August or even July is too late. Play well all year. You don’t have to win them all just about 61% of them.

    • David Proctor - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:08 PM

      61% is 99 wins.

      • natsguy - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:26 PM

        Yep and? The goal s/b to try for 100 wins.

      • David Proctor - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:32 PM

        The goal maybe, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if we can’t win 100 games. Very few ever can.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Re: Cardinals — Optioning your opening day 2B before May 1 in favor of a 37 y/o hitting .100 sounds like panic to me. My impression during the Cardinals series was they aren’t nearly as sound defensively as last year. Carpenter looked handcuffed on a couple of plays at third. The best thing their announcer could say about Peralta was “he makes the routine plays — which is kind. And Ellis isn’t going to win any 10-yard dash races.

  9. Danny - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    Keith law says Harper is having surgery torn ligament. Out until July. We have be best luck.

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:47 PM

    So much for the Nats saying they were not concerned:

    “@BBTN: Sources tell @keithlaw that Bryce Harper will have surgery tomorrow and be out until at least early July: http://t.co/DpIy5z2RyO

    • Eric - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:53 PM

      Boo. Effing. Hiss.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:56 PM

        This is unreal. More BS from the team. “We’re not concerned” I believe was the quote initially. Then there was the quote about 2nd opinions are standard. Now what do they say?

    • NatsLady - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      They said they WERE concderned. It was in my post and Kilgore’s article. Harper said he wasn’t concerned. Two differnet things.

      • Eric - Apr 28, 2014 at 6:04 PM

        That’s my recollection, too.

        After the MRI, an unnamed source said “sprain,” “second opinion,” and “it doesn’t look good.”

        I suspect 2nd opinions *are* standard for something like this.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 28, 2014 at 6:34 PM

        What did Matt Williams specifically say?

  11. Eugene in Oregon - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    Remind me, please, when Ryan Zimmerman is due back?

    • David Proctor - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:51 PM

      Mid-May. Ramos early May. But Ramos is likely to be power-less for most, if not all, of the season.

  12. secretwasianman - Apr 28, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    Ramos, Zimm and Bryce. No way this team over comes that. The season is now lost for sure. What a shame. Time to replace Zimm and Ramos Permanently. They are always hurt.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB MN
x-WASHINGTON 87 63 -- 0
ATLANTA 75 76 12.5
MIAMI 73 77 14.0
NEW YORK 73 79 15.0
PHILADELPHIA 69 81 18.0
Through Tuesday's early games
x-Clinched division title
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WED: Nats at Braves, 7:10 p.m.
THU: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
FRI: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
MON: OFF
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