Since the Washington Nationals returned from a 10-game West Coast road trip, the bats have picked up.
Prior to Thursday’s game, the Nationals averaged 5.2 runs per contest since May 24, when they opened a series against Philadelphia at home. Washington had scored six runs or more in three of four games — a total it failed to reach once in its previous seven contests.
The middle of the lineup has powered the Nationals’ recent surge. First baseman Adam LaRoche batted .429 with three home runs in the six games prior to Thursday’s game, while third baseman Ryan Zimmerman belted three homers against Baltimore on Wednesday.
Despite the improved offense, the Nationals managed just a 3-3 record in this span.
When Washington was in a hitting slump in late April, manager Davey Johnson offered his players some advice. Perhaps they’re listening now.
“I’ve tried to tell them messages from Ted Williams,” Johnson said. “He never swung 100 percent; he swung 80 percent so his timing would be 100 percent.”
The recent stretch has been a pleasant surprise for an offense that has struggled most of the season.
Entering Thursday, the Nationals were batting .233 as a team, which ranked 28th in the majors. They ranked 26th in runs (190) and 24th in slugging percentage (.380). Pitching is certainly the team’s strength, though there was plenty of optimism about Washington’s ability at the plate heading into the 2013 season.
The Nationals’ bats will be needed in Atlanta this weekend when the team takes on the Braves, who entered Thursday up 4½ games on Washington in the NL East.
This season the Nationals are 2-5 against the Braves, scoring just 13 runs in those seven games.
For the three-game series, Atlanta is expected to start Julio Teheran, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, who are a combined 3-1 against Washington this year.
The Nationals hope their recent uptick in hitting will continue in Atlanta.
“Hitting is contagious,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “Once one guy gets going, everybody feeds on it.”