May 30, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
Quick: Name the Nationals’ most-productive offensive player over the last 2 1/2 weeks.
Ian Desmond? Nope. Adam LaRoche? Sorry. Nate McLouth? No chance.
Wait, no, actually it is McLouth. Seriously. Over the Nationals’ last 15 games, McLouth leads the club with a .324 batting average, .419 on-base percentage and four stolen bases.
OK, so that’s a bit of an arbitrary starting point for this kind of ranking. And if you push things back to Opening Day, McLouth remains one of the least-productive hitters on the roster, sporting a .182 batting average and .582 OPS.
But the point is, after a terrible start to his Nationals career, McLouth finally is starting to produce the way general manager Mike Rizzo expected when he signed the veteran outfielder to a 2-year, $10.75 million contract.
It all culminated Wednesday night in a 4-for-4 performance by McLouth, who also drew a walk, doubled, stole a base, drove in two runs and was able to crack a rare postgame smile.
“It was nice, because I’ve been grinding,” he said. “It’s really nice just to finally be able to come through for your team at the plate a little bit. It certainly gives you a chance to exhale a little bit.”
McLouth was signed over the winter specifically for his ability to step in and play every day if one of the Nationals’ three starting outfielders landed on the disabled list. Sure enough, the opportunity came when Bryce Harper tore a ligament in his thumb last month, pushing McLouth into a starting role.
And then … well, it didn’t go particularly well. McLouth went through an abysmal 2-for-38 stretch that left him sporting an .078 batting average. So, how did he manage to battle through that and get his head back above water again?
“Just staying confident and positive,” he said. “I don’t know if you can remain confident all the time, but at least stay positive in the box and know that sooner or later it will turn around.”
One factor that surely has helped: McLouth has had to fight his way out of long-term slumps more than once in his career. An All-Star with the Pirates in 2008, he found himself demoted to the minors by the Braves only two years later, then re-established himself as a productive major leaguer over the last two seasons in Baltimore.
Perhaps a combination of experience and confidence has allowed McLouth to get over the hump once again and position himself to become the significant contributor the Nationals expected him to be all along.
“I don’t know about confident,” he said with a laugh. “I tried to be confident. But you just have to stick with your approach that you do every day, your routine, and things will turn around.”
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