It better keep working. With Stephen Strasburg due to be shut down fairly soon, the Nats’ offensive evolution needs to continue. Luckily, their transformation is already in its 14th month. Since the day Johnson took over as manager, he vowed to eradicate, root and branch every theory of hitting that he saw the Nats employing when he took the job last June.
Johnson believes “the previous regime” insisted on an almost comical overemphasis on hitting to the opposite field, usually singles. That should slowly be replaced by a focus on all-fields power. He empowered Eckstein to teach hitting the way the coach wanted to, but has never before had across-the-board support.
“This is going to take time,” Johnson told Rizzo. “We have some real bad philosophy in here. It takes time for players to change habits.”
For almost a year, Johnson sounded wacky when he talked about how much hitting talent the Nats had and how sure he was that it would emerge.
Actually, he was “Wack-o,” which became one of Johnson’s nicknames.
“WACK-O!” Johnson would exclaim, walking up to a Nats player and showing him “The Move.” Johnson would smack the back of his left hand downward, from his right shoulder to what would be a waist-high pitch, showing how you could have a short, quick swing that got the bathead’s sweet spot to the ball while it was still at or in front of the plate.
“How’s our ‘dumb’ hitting coach doing these days? He sure seems to be getting smarter,” Rizzo said. With their best possible lineup finally available (except for catcher Wilson Ramos), the Nats seem almost as excited to find out how well they can hit as they are by the pennant race itself.
From now on, the Nats must cope with hot starting rotations, like the Atlanta Braves who are now in Nationals Park, or the strong staffs from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Cincinnati that may wait in October. In order to succeed, they’ll have to keep hitting as they have recently.
In Monday’s series-opening 5-4 win against the Braves, the Nats showed their progress and the work that still remains as the excruciating pressure of late-season games makes hitting far more difficult than mere theory in these close, crucial games.