No viable conclusions can be drawn from spring training statistics or results. We all know that. But these games are being played, and we can also agree that if you’re playing, it’s better to hit well than to hit poorly. And the Nationals are hitting well.
After Rick Schu arrived last summer, the Nationals’ offense took off. The trend has continued in spring training. The Nationals rank fourth in the Grapefruit League in average (.275), second in on-base percentage (.345) and third in in slugging (.435). They’ve hit 17 homers, more than every big league team except the Red Sox. They’ve also drawn more walks per game than any team in Florida.
The Nationals’ first two weeks of games have also produced promising individual signs. Denard Span started slowly last spring, struggled to find his swing through the season’s first three months and then exploded late in the year. That’s carried over – Span is 10 for 24, consistently smacking line drives.
Adam LaRoche is typically a slow starter, and the Nationals’ offense may hinge on his season more than any other. His left-handed bat was a force in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup in 2012; in 2013, it was a hole. LaRoche is 8 for 23 with two homers after he went 3 for 3 yesterday, including two line-drive singles to left-center field.
“I’m encouraged by him hitting the ball back through the middle right now,” Manager Matt Williams said. “He can pull the ball and lift a ball back to his pull side. I’m encouraged with how he’s staying on it. Kind of taking what they’re giving him, which he’s going to have to do during the course of the year. He looks good. Looks good to me.”
Fighting for his place on the roster and trying to reestablish himself, Danny Espinosa has gone 4 for 24. But he’s been hitting the ball with more authority than the numbers show – yesterday, his fly out to deep left-center may have been the hardest-hit ball all day off Mets uber-prospect Noah Syndergaard. Most encouraging, Espinosa has struck out only three times drawn two walks.
More important than stats is how players find their swings. Nate McLouth knows he’s still trying to find his, having gone 3 for 19 with seven strikeouts. “Sometimes, it’s like Day 1, oh, there it is,” McLouth said. “Sometimes, it’ll take a couple weeks. It’s just different. You can’t panic. You just got to know sometimes, it’s a process. It’ll happen.”
It might have happened for McLouth on Wednesday afternoon. He drilled his first homer of the spring, and it came off Astros left-handed reliever Darin Downs. In his career, McLouth has hit just .221 against left-handers.
“Sometimes, that will help me get in a rhythm a little bit,” McLouth said. “Sometimes, that one at-bat off a lefty, you don’t try to do too much. You try to see the ball a little bit longer. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to start swinging the bat a little bit.
“I haven’t felt good at the plate yet. My timing is off. I’m having okay at-bats, but the timing of my swing isn’t right. Hopefully that will have a little impact on it and I’ll get it rolling.”
FROM THE POST
The Nationals have taken to hitting coach Rick Schu’s relaxed, simplified approach.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY
“There are three types of baseball players: Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happened.”
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY