Amid the Nationals’ most dismal hitting stretch of the season, Manager Davey Johnson staunchly defended hitting coach Rick Eckstein, praising Eckstein’s approach and work ethic while also minimizing the role of a hitting coach.
The Nationals are in first place despite ranking 27th in the majors with 3.73 runs per game. Over their past 10 games, the Nationals have scored only 25 runs. Their offense has also been decimated by injuries, with Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse both performing below their ability when they have been available. Johnson vehemently said Eckstein is not to blame for the Nationals’ offensive woes.
“Rick Eckstein’s approach to teaching hitting is second to none,” Johnson said. “And I can tell you that I’ve had a little experience on those lines. I would go into detail about it, of all the great hitting coaches, where they were not as good as Rick. I don’t really take offense, because it just tells me how ignorant certain people are in the responsibility that goes with a hitter hitting. It’s his responsibility to get a pitch that he can hit and hit it. The hitting coach can’t help him.”
Monday night, Johnson criticized the Nationals’ approach in a 4-2 loss to the Rockies after they scored one run against starter Jeff Francis, who entered the game with an 8.56 ERA, and the Rockies’ bullpen. Johnson said he had spoken with several hitters one-on-one about their approach at the plate.
“By and large, what I don’t like is us getting in between,” Johnson said. “We’re not really looking for a breaking ball, we’re not really looking for a fastball. You’re somewhere in between. And then you don’t hit either one hard. That comes from a young approach. But I’ve seen it at times from some of the veteran hitters. I know the talent is there, and I know we’re capable of doing it.”
Eckstein has been the Nationals’ hitting coach since September 2008. Since the start of 2010, only four teams have scored fewer runs than the Nationals, and Eckstein has frequently drawn the ire of Washington’s fan base. Johnson voiced his displeasure at that criticism and said each player needs to be accountable for his own performance.
“Well, you know, he’s probably the most organized and the hardest worker that I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said. “He’s conscientious, he’s positive. His teachings, I agree 1,000 percent about. It’s the same approach that the great hitters, if you talk to them, that’s the way they would hit, that’s the way they would try to get their short and powerful stroke. He doesn’t do a lot of mechanics. He talks about seeing the ball, getting a good pitch to hit, seeing the fastball, all these things. But it’s an individual responsibility. … I don’t like it when people start pointing fingers at somebody.”