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Nats trying to solve pinch-hitting woes

Jul 20, 2014, 12:53 PM EDT

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There are few jobs in baseball tougher to master than pinch-hitting, so any evaluation of a player or a team’s performance in that realm has to be taken with a grain of salt.

But facts are facts, and right now, Nationals pinch-hitters are among the worst in baseball.

Collectively, they are hitting .153 as pinch-hitters, which entering Sunday ranked 25th out of 30 MLB club, 14th out of 15 NL teams. And no team has struggled more off the bench over the last month or so: Nationals pinch-hitters are 0 for their last 16 and 1-for-28 with one walk since June 18.

How exactly does a team improve in that department?

“It’s a difficult one,” manager Matt Williams said. “Can we be better? Sure, we can be better. And they work hard every day to be better. I don’t think we’re alone in that. Every time we send a guy up there to pinch-hit … we want them to do well, and they do, too. We’ll just keep grinding on it.”

Complicating matters is the overall lack of playing time members of the Nationals bench have been getting the last few weeks. With a healthy starting lineup finally intact, reserves Kevin Frandsen, Nate McLouth, Scott Hairston and Danny Espinosa have been given a grand total of four starts over the last 15 games, two of those a byproduct of games in Baltimore, where the DH was added to the lineup.

It’s tough enough to step to the plate in the eighth or ninth inning, ice cold, and be asked to face an elite reliever. It’s even tougher to do it when it’s your only at-bat in days.

“It’s tough, but I feel like we’re some of the better pinch-hitters around, and there’s a reason for it: We come prepared,” said Frandsen, who ranks 11th in the majors with 7 pinch-hits this season. “I know Nate, he does the same thing, and Scotty. It’s one of those things. You set your mind to that at-bat late in a game. They’re going to need you. It’s just a mindset. You’ve got to set your mind to … yeah, you want to be ready to be called upon earlier. But late in a game, that’s what we’re here for.”

More regular playing time might help, but Williams is reluctant to make many alterations to a starting lineup that has led the NL in runs scored since Bryce Harper returned June 30.

“It’s difficult,” the manager said. “We’re unique in that regard. We have a lot of position players in our starting eight that play just about every day. It’s hard to give them rest because they’re playing so well. … I can’t argue with having Wilson Ramos hitting eighth for us. I can’t argue with that. That’s a comforting feeling, to know that we have multiple guys in our lineup that are generally middle-of-the-order guys, that generally play just about every day. It limits the time the guys on the bench have for reps. So that’s a hard one.

“It’s a difficult one to deal with, because you want to give guys opportunities and keep them sharp, so when they do step up there they’ve got rhythm and timing. And they’ve just had a few at-bats recently. It’s not like jumping back in the fire again.”

The situation may not be ideal, but Nationals reserves aren’t griping about their lack of playing time.

“We know what we signed up for: Being a vital part of the bench,” Frandsen said. “And right now, being a vital part of the bench means being the best teammate possible, being there and supportive and busting your butt to be ready for that opportunity if it comes. And if it comes, it does. If it doesn’t, I don’t mind it because we’re winning. Winning is literally the only thing. It sounds like a cliche, but it is. It’s the only thing we want.”

  1. David Proctor - Jul 20, 2014 at 1:08 PM

    Frandsen as a PH: .259/.310/.370, .681 OPS
    Hairston as a PH: .150/.208/.300, .508 OPS
    McLouth: .111/.320/.111, .431 OPS
    Espi: .000/.500/.000, .500 OPS (4 PAs)

    So Frandsen is the only guy who is even decent at it. McLouth gets on base at least, so I guess that’s useful in a sense, but you better not expect a hit or especially an XBH. Espi gets no PH opps and Hairston just hasn’t been good. Badly need some pop off the bench.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 20, 2014 at 1:17 PM

      Those numbers don’t even tell the full story as Frandsen started off April hot as a pinch-hitter and his last Hi or Med Lev pinch-hit happened to be that key HR in Arizona in mid-May. 1 pinch hit in June in a blowout and that’s been it.

      Hairston who has the primary pinch-hitter hasn’t had a pinch-hit in nearly 2 months and he generally gets the #1 matchup against the lefty reliever. That feeble K against Gorzo last night is why he has to go.

      • nats1924 - Jul 20, 2014 at 2:24 PM

        hairston is garbage

    • Section 222 - Jul 21, 2014 at 12:13 AM

      Dobbs was lousy too. A Murderer’s Row it’s not.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 20, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    “Nationals pinch-hitters are 0 for their last 16 and 1-for-28 with one walk since June 18.”

    Dobbs is gone and it’s still not getting better. Easiest part of the team to improve as the teams out of the running would love to part with a high priced pinch-hitter/bench player like a Cody Ross.

    We also see the opposing team outplaying the Nats pinch-hitters just like yesterday. The advantage for the pinch-hitter is that the Manager is choosing the optimal matchup.

    My comment was the Nats pinch-hitters go up there looking for 450 when 150 will do like Maldanado showed yesterday.

  3. natinalsgo - Jul 20, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    This is Mark’s quote:

    “But facts are facts, and right now, Nationals pinch-hitters are among the worst in baseball”

    Agree with those calling bull on Matty’s comments on the trade deadline. Just a little disappointed in Rizzo in the Hairston signing in the first place and the fact he made the 2014 roster when so many better players were available. I’m OK with McLouth. He’s the Nats 4th outfielder. Hairston does nothing but hit lefties. Plenty of pinch-hitters who can do that and play defense and run the bases.

  4. scnatsfan - Jul 20, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    Problem with getting someone is that one of these guys has to be sent off the roster and there is no easy decision there

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 20, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      Really? Buh bye Scott, we thank you for your time in DC but it’s not working and we will forward your other MILLION you are owed to your permanent mailing address. Enjoy Syracuse Danny and work hard, see you in September. Frandsen, get your head in the game or you are next.

      That was easy scnatsfan. You want me to do it?

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 20, 2014 at 4:08 PM

        Definitely eat Hairston’s salary. I’m willing to keep Danny’s glove and legs on the bench, give him a start against lefthanders.

        I wish they’d give McLouth more chances. He’s improved since his awful start, and even when he makes an out he usually hits it pretty well.

        Frandsen is a mediocre hitter, but he can play a lot of positions and not embarrass you.

  5. micksback1 - Jul 20, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    could nats go after A. Soriano?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 20, 2014 at 4:15 PM

      I answered you on the other thread! LOL

  6. davecydell - Jul 20, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    Somebody tell me why the Nats cannot do this:
    The Nats send down and bring up pitchers from Cuse, why not hitters?
    The guys that come up have seen action and the guys that go down can work on timing and such?

  7. natszee - Jul 20, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    Bring back Lombardozzi … At least he outs were productive and he never said a word about his role. What a sin he is not on this team instead of the pine warmers we have. Rizzo gave Dobbs a shot for goodness sake even the fish threw him over the side.

    Bring back #1

    • therealjohnc - Jul 20, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      It’s a sin that Lombardozzi isn’t on this team? What, you want to send Doug Fister back to Detroit?

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