Amid the rubble of the Nationals’ wasted opportunities Wednesday night, one glimmer of promise broke through. The Nationals had generated so many rallies in what became a punishing, 8-5, 10-inning loss because of crucial hits from Nate McLouth, the maligned offseason acquisition who is starting to shed his dismal early-season funk.
McLouth went 4 for 4 with a walk and a stolen base, a breakout night to punctuate a stretch that has slowly begun to turn around his first season in Washington. Since McLouth bottomed out May 11, when his season slash line stood at /.078/.254/.157, he has gone 12 for 37 with four walks and three doubles.
Through his early-season malaise, McLouth told himself not to change his mechanics or the way he planned at-bats. He had overhauled himself midseason earlier in his career, and it had led only to a deeper struggle. He tried to stay confident and upbeat, and he succeeded in remaining positive.
“I don’t know about confident,” McLouth said. “I tried to be confident. But you just have to stick with your approach that you do every day, your routine, and things will turn around.”
Wednesday night, with his first three-hit game since April 28 last year, they did. McLouth delivered the most important at-bat of the Nationals’ four-run comeback, a two-out, two-run double with the bases loaded. (The Nationals had six at-bats with the bases loaded, and McLouth proved the line hit in those situations.) McLouth also sparked the wasted eighth-inning rally with a walk against a lefty reliever and a stolen base, and he extended the ninth inning with a bloop single.
“It was nice, because I’ve been grinding,” McLouth said. “It’s really nice just to finally be able to come through for your team at the plate a little bit. It certainly gives you a chance to exhale a little bit.”
The Nationals need offense from any source they can get it. While injuries have depleted their lineup all season, their dreadful May production has stemmed from slumping regulars, too. In May, Ian Desmond, Scott Hairston and Denard Span are the only Nationals with a wRC+ – an advanced stat that measures a hitter’s overall production – above league average.
If McLouth can stay hot, then, it would boost an offense in desperate need. But for how long? McLouth would have returned to his fourth outfielder when Bryce Harper returned in July. Now, it seems Ryan Zimmerman will eat into his playing time when he returns in June as a left fielder, first baseman and third baseman.
No matter what his role, the Nationals will rely on McLouth at some point this season. Wednesday night, in an otherwise bleak game, he offered hope that they can count on him.