At times Thursday night, the Nationals offense seemed poised to snap its team-wide, season-long funk against Roy Halladay. They pounded six hits while using their first 10 outs of the game, and they had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth. And then, as has usually happened when their offense is about to turn things around, they wilted: Halladay retired the next 11 batters, and the Nationals, despite driving Halladay’s pitch to 110 in seven innings, finished the game with three runs.
And so the Nationals will try to break out again tonight against the Marlins and Ricky Nolasco, who has a 5.28 ERA in three starts against the Nationals since the beginning of last season. The Nationals have scored 3.65 runs per game this year, 26th in the majors, with a .298 on-base percentage, 27th in league. Hitting coach Rick Eckstein is focused more on his daily process the only thing he can control, than on those results.
“Where I always go is the preparation side of things,” Eckstein said. “The game is about adjustments, but when it comes to preparing, you’re always preparing yourself and preparing the guys the best you can. We haven’t been able to put things together. We’ve come close a couple times. But that’s the way the ball rolls. You’ve got show up every day and continue to prepare and do the best you can do to execute and achieve.
“I don’t feel like they’re that far away. Yesterday, I felt like we were right there – a big hit here, a big hit there. But putting those things together has been a little bit elusive. We’ve just got to keep battling and keep going until we figure out how to put it together.”
The weight of the Nationals’ slump has hindered their ability to break it. Their .272 batting average on balls in play suggests they are headed for a positive correction, but it’s hard for players to look at 0-fers and accept that.
“Everybody is trying to do too much,” Eckstein said. “Their heart is in the right place. Sometimes, the best adjustment you can do is try easier. It’s easy to communicate. Sometimes, it’s a little harder to execute. Every one of these guys cares – big-time cares. When you care that much, it’s hard to say, ‘Alright, just relax.’ ”
As for Eckstein himself, he aims not let the results from one game, good or bad, affect his preparation. He constantly bustles around the clubhouse and batting cage, talking with hitters and demonstrating in the cage. Internally, the Nationals placed responsibility for their offensive start solely on the hitters, not on Eckstein.
“I put as much on my table as I can handle, whether we’re winning or losing,” Eckstein said. “I challenge myself every day. That’s what I have to do. This game is about preparation and about being ready. Ultimately, at the end of the day, you’ve got to put that together. The game stars at 7, and execute.”
As always, talk about the game right here.