The Nationals signed Nate McLouth this winter to a two-year, $10.5 million contract so he could serve as a fourth outfielder, an insurance policy against injury and their top left-handed pinch hitter. Those plans soured as McLouth’s production dropped, and when he underwent surgery
Wednesday Thursday to repair a torn rotator cuff labrum the Nationals were left without a left-handed bat on their bench.
The lack of a balance on their bench is in the process of being resolved, for better or worse. The Nationals signed veteran Nate Schierholtz early this week and assigned him to Class AAA Syracuse. The Nationals could wait to call up Schierholtz until September and use Michael Taylor as an extra right-handed bat in the meantime. But Manager Matt Williams seems ready to use Schierholtz whenever Schierholtz is ready.
“He’s got experience,” Williams said. “He’s had success. He hits from the left side, which with McLouth going down there’s a need for. When that is, we don’t know. We want him ready when he’s ready and be up here when he’s ready to be productive. We don’t want to rush him in that regard. There’s no need to do that. We want to make sure his timing is good and he’s ready to play when he gets here.”
While Schierholtz has an impressive .289 career average in 182 pinch-hit appearances, he scuffled this season before the Cubs designated him for assignment. Schierholtz hit .192/.240/.300 in 341 plate appearances.
Schierholtz last played Aug. 5, and he has been ramping back up at Class AAA Syracuse. On Wednesday, in his second game with Syracuse, Schierholtz went 3 for 5 with a home run.
“He’s getting his timing back,” Williams said. “He hasn’t played in some time. He played right. He DH’d. He played center. He’s getting some at-bats and working his way back to feeling good at the plate. He needs those at-bats. He hasn’t played in a while. It would be like anybody else coming back from injury or any of that. He’s getting those. He’s playing every day.”
The Nationals could also turn to Danny Espinosa as a left-handed pinch hitter on days he does not start, which are frequent. But Espinosa has much better as a right-handed batter this season. As a lefty, he’s batting .180/.238/.286 this year.
McLouth “came out okay” after surgery, Williams said. Williams said earlier this week McLouth is expected to be ready for next spring training.