The Nationals’ two most important at-bats in their 2-1 loss last night lasted one pitch each. In the fourth inning, with two runners in scoring position and one out, Jayson Werth broke his bat on the first pitch he saw, an inside fastball, and popped to short. In the bottom of the ninth, with one out, Wilson Ramos grounded a first-pitch slider into a 4-6-3 double play.
Those at-bats, to Manager Davey Johnson, illustrated why the Nationals have not had great success this season with runners in scoring position. In trying to produce the big hit, the Nationals have been over-aggressive and sometimes let a pitcher in trouble off the hook.
“The pitcher is in a jam,” Johnson said. “I want to be aggressive, but we need to smart-aggressive, looking for balls in our area. And we haven’t been consistent doing that basically all year. We need to get better in that.”
The Nationals have not come through with runners in scoring position to great effect this season, but they have not really hit that well, compared to the rest of the league, no matter who is or isn’t on base. Here are the Nationals’ totals:
Runners in scoring position: .229 average (27th in the majors), .689 OPS (24th)
Nobody on base: .233 average (29th), .668 OPS (25th)
Runners on any base: .249 average (24th), .714 OPS
So the Nationals are at their best when there is only a runner on first base, which seems a little strange; maybe they’re using the hole opened by the first baseman particularly well. Or maybe the distribution of hits is random and “clutch” does not really exist.
But, anyway, Johnson has identified hitting with runners in scoring position as an issue. On Wednesday night, Johnson saw the problem as the Nationals swinging at tough pitches when they did not have to, including Werth in the third.
Werth came up after Ryan Zimmerman and Rick Ankiel had hit singles to start the fourth, then moved into scoring position on a groundout by Michael Morse. Johnny Cueto threw him a 97-mph fastball off the plate, inside, and Werth flared it softly to short.
“It’s a mindset,” Johnson said. “Jayson’s probably trying to make too much happen and expanding too much. He knows better. He’s trying to really do something great and help the club. But in that situation, a pticher’s in a jam, you can look for balls in your area. You don’t have to be anxious to go after the first thing they throw. We can get good pitches to hit. That’s something we need to improve on.”
Werth saw his out not as an issue with his approach, but of Cueto’s execution trumping his.
“He’s always pitched me in, so I was looking in there,” Werth said. “That was probably the best I’ve seen him. I’ve seen him other times and he’s been good, but not with that much velocity. He was really firm, and he had a good sinker. I had a good plan on him. He just executed. That 96-mph sinker was too much. You’re trying to be aggressive in that situation. You take your shots. Tip your cap.”
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NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Gwinnett 3, Syracuse 1: Roger Bernadina went 2 for 3 with a walk. Jhonatan Solano went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. Craig Stammen allowed no earned runs in six innings on three hits and three walks, striking out nine.
Harrisburg 5, Akron 3: Bryce Harper didn’t play. Derek Norris went 1 for 5 with a home run. Tyler Moore went 1 for 3 with a walk and a home run.
Kinston 2, Potomac 1: Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 4. Evan Bronson allowed two runs in six innings on four hits and three walks, striking out four.
Hagerstown 9, Lexington 6: Michael Taylor went 2 for 5 with a double and a triple. Adrian Nieto went 2 for 4 with a double. Chris Curran went 3 for 4. Rehabbing, Doug Slaten pitched a perfect inning and struck out one.
Auburn 4, Aberdeen 2: Justin Miller went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. Bryce Ortega went 2 for 4.