Nate McLouth’s career has taken him from all-star to Class AAA to a talented Nats outfield


Nationals manager Matt Williams, left, could use Nate McLouth at all three outfield positions. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

From where he stands, Nate McLouth can look back at his journey and smile. He has certainly earned it. The 32-year-old with slick blonde hair from Whitehall, Mich., has the job security of a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals worth $10.75 million, plus a third-year option. The Nationals have playoff aspirations, and he is their first outfield option off the bench. He is in a comfortable place with teammates from other stops along his nine-year major league career.

Less than two years ago, he was nowhere close to any of this. The Pittsburgh Pirates released him and his .140 batting average on May 31, 2012. He had struggled the previous two-plus years, too, posting a .229 average with the Atlanta Braves. He was once an all-star and a Gold Glove winner, but that summer, after he was cut, he was back home in Knoxville, Tenn. He hoped to relax with his wife, Lindsay, and their two dogs, but he couldn’t.

“It was strange,” McLouth said earlier this week, seated at his locker inside the Nationals’ clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium. “I thought I would enjoy relaxing at home. I wanted to enjoy it. But I wanted to get back. That’s how I knew that I wanted to keep going.”

McLouth did, and after three weeks he signed a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles and reported to their Class AAA affiliate, the Norfolk Tides. His career was reborn. He regained his confidence and started having fun again.

“As cliche as it sounds, just being myself and not doing things I’m not capable of doing,” said McLouth, who started in center field against the Braves on Thursday night. “Literally, just enjoyed myself. When you play free like that, it’s amazing how things work out.”

At the plate, McLouth changed his swing and approach. Norfolk Manager Ron Johnson urged McLouth to be more aggressive. McLouth’s body wasn’t in position to hit. He was late on balls. His timing was off. His mechanics broke down. During those down years, especially during his mid-2009 to 2011 stint with Atlanta, McLouth felt pressure to perform after a big trade landed him there from Pittsburgh, his first team.

“I started some really bad habits and kind of snowballed,” McLouth said. “I look back at myself on film from then and can hardly recognize my swing. Kind of went back and wiped the slate clean when I started with Baltimore and went to Triple-A. I’m happy with the way that’s worked out.”

McLouth posted a .244 average, .325 on-base percentage and .461 slugging percentage with 10 home runs in 47 games with Norfolk and forced the Orioles’ hand. He had a an opt-out clause in his contract for Aug. 4, 2012, and on that day the Orioles cleared a spot on the roster for him and brought him back to the major leagues. He hit .268/.342/.435 with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases, playing left field daily over the next two months. He helped Baltimore make a final push into the playoffs, their first postseason appearance since 1997.

“It was exciting,” he said. “I started enjoying myself again on the field and having fun.”

The Orioles re-signed McLouth to a one-year, $2 million incentive-laden deal. Injuries to others forced him into near-everyday action in left field, and he produced again. He posted a .258/.329/.399 line with 12 home runs and 30 stolen bases in 37 attempts. According to some metrics, he was one of the best base runners in baseball. For his size, 5 feet 10, 190 pounds, McLouth is both strong (he has 100 career home runs) and speedy (129 career stolen bases).

“A good teammate, a good guy,” center fielder Denard Span said. “I was a fan of his coming up in the minor leagues when he was playing in Pittsburgh. He has a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience. He’s the only guy in the outfield that has a Gold Glove. I’m going to pick his brain — and I already have a little bit in spring training — and try to learn as much as I can.”

The Nationals coveted him for those reasons and because he could fill in at all three outfield positions should Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth or Span suffer any injuries or need regular days off. Werth missed 33 games last season and Harper 44, and the Nationals’ bench was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses.

At the time of McLouth’s signing, General Manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals’ fourth outfielder averaged 80 games and between 380 and 425 at-bats a season over the past few seasons. McLouth has a career line of .250/.334/.418 and was an all-star with Pittsburgh in 2008, the same year he won a Gold Glove for his play in center field. The union between the two parties this offseason was logical.

“Nate would make sense for any team in that role,” Werth said. “I haven’t really looked at how his career has gone, but in my mind he’s close to an everyday guy as anybody. To have him as a fourth [outfielder] is good. And we have Scott[Hairston], too. You feel good not playing when you’ve got guys like that. They give your team a chance to win. Whereas there have been situations where it has not been that way.”

Before he signed with Washington, McLouth called former teammate and Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, whom he overlapped with in Pittsburgh and in Atlanta. He wanted to know about living in Washington and the city. “This is the place I wanted to be of all the teams I was talking to by far,” said McLouth, who could have received more playing time for other potential suitors.

So far, McLouth is fitting in with his new teammates. He knows several from previous stints. With the Braves in 2009, he played with relievers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, who was with the Nationals in 2012 and signed a minor league deal with Washington this week. By then, McLouth was already a nearly fluent Spanish speaker, having honed the Spanish he learned in high school and in the minor leagues.

But one day, Gonzalez told Soriano about McLouth’s Spanish. At first, Soriano wasn’t sure what to believe until he heard McLouth speak the language for himself.

“He would say, ‘Soriano, the Americans all think I’m American, but I’m from there. From Santiago . They don’t know,’ ” Soriano recalled. “He would say, ‘I’m from the Dominican. My last name is Peralta. They just don’t know.’ ”

Asked about his Spanish and what he would say to Soriano, McLouth laughs. “I like surprising people,” he said.

by James Wagner

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — From where he stands, Nate McLouth can look back at his journey and smile. He has certainly earned it. The 32-year-old with slick blonde hair from Whitehall, Mich., has the job security of a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals worth $10.75 million, plus a third-year option. The Nationals have playoff aspirations, and he is their first outfield option off the bench. He is in a comfortable place with teammates from other stops along his nine-year major league career.

Less than two years ago, he was nowhere close to any of this. The Pittsburgh Pirates released him and his .140 batting average on May 31, 2012. He had struggled the previous two-plus years, too, posting a .229 average with the Atlanta Braves. He was once an all-star and a Gold Glove winner, but that summer, after he was cut, he was back home in Knoxville, Tenn. He hoped to relax with his wife, Lindsay, and their two dogs, but he couldn’t.

“It was strange,” McLouth said earlier this week, seated at his locker inside the Nationals’ clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium. “I thought I would enjoy relaxing at home. I wanted to enjoy it. But I wanted to get back. That’s how I knew that I wanted to keep going.”

McLouth did, and after three weeks he signed a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles and reported to their Class AAA affiliate, the Norfolk Tides. His career was reborn. He regained his confidence and started having fun again.

“As cliche as it sounds, just being myself and not doing things I’m not capable of doing,” said McLouth, who started in center field against the Braves on Thursday night. “Literally, just enjoyed myself. When you play free like that, it’s amazing how things work out.”

At the plate, McLouth changed his swing and approach. Norfolk Manager Ron Johnson urged McLouth to be more aggressive. McLouth’s body wasn’t in position to hit. He was late on balls. His timing was off. His mechanics broke down. During those down years, especially during his mid-2009 to 2011 stint with Atlanta, McLouth felt pressure to perform after a big trade landed him there from Pittsburgh, his first team.

“I started some really bad habits and kind of snowballed,” McLouth said. “I look back at myself on film from then and can hardly recognize my swing. Kind of went back and wiped the slate clean when I started with Baltimore and went to Triple-A. I’m happy with the way that’s worked out.”

McLouth posted a .244 average, .325 on-base percentage and .461 slugging percentage with 10 home runs in 47 games with Norfolk and forced the Orioles’ hand. He had a an opt-out clause in his contract for Aug. 4, 2012, and on that day the Orioles cleared a spot on the roster for him and brought him back to the major leagues. He hit .268/.342/.435 with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases, playing left field daily over the next two months. He helped Baltimore make a final push into the playoffs, their first postseason appearance since 1997.

“It was exciting,” he said. “I started enjoying myself again on the field and having fun.”

The Orioles re-signed McLouth to a one-year, $2 million incentive-laden deal. Injuries to others forced him into near-everyday action in left field, and he produced again. He posted a .258/.329/.399 line with 12 home runs and 30 stolen bases in 37 attempts. According to some metrics, he was one of the best base runners in baseball. For his size, 5 feet 10, 190 pounds, McLouth is both strong (he has 100 career home runs) and speedy (129 career stolen bases).

“A good teammate, a good guy,” center fielder Denard Span said. “I was a fan of his coming up in the minor leagues when he was playing in Pittsburgh. He has a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience. He’s the only guy in the outfield that has a Gold Glove. I’m going to pick his brain — and I already have a little bit in spring training — and try to learn as much as I can.”

The Nationals coveted him for those reasons and because he could fill in at all three outfield positions should Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth or Span suffer any injuries or need regular days off. Werth missed 33 games last season and Harper 44, and the Nationals’ bench was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses.

At the time of McLouth’s signing, General Manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals’ fourth outfielder averaged 80 games and between 380 and 425 at-bats a season over the past few seasons. McLouth has a career line of .250/.334/.418 and was an all-star with Pittsburgh in 2008, the same year he won a Gold Glove for his play in center field. The union between the two parties this offseason was logical.

“Nate would make sense for any team in that role,” Werth said. “I haven’t really looked at how his career has gone, but in my mind he’s close to an everyday guy as anybody. To have him as a fourth [outfielder] is good. And we have Scott[Hairston], too. You feel good not playing when you’ve got guys like that. They give your team a chance to win. Whereas there have been situations where it has not been that way.”

Before he signed with Washington, McLouth called former teammate and Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, whom he overlapped with in Pittsburgh and in Atlanta. He wanted to know about living in Washington and the city. “This is the place I wanted to be of all the teams I was talking to by far,” said McLouth, who could have received more playing time for other potential suitors.

So far, McLouth is fitting in with his new teammates. He knows several from previous stints. With the Braves in 2009, he played with relievers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, who was with the Nationals in 2012 and signed a minor league deal with Washington this week. By then, McLouth was already a nearly fluent Spanish speaker, having honed the Spanish he learned in high school and in the minor leagues.

But one day, Gonzalez told Soriano about McLouth’s Spanish. At first, Soriano wasn’t sure what to believe until he heard McLouth speak the language for himself.

“He would say, ‘Soriano, the Americans all think I’m American, but I’m from there. From Santiago . They don’t know,’ ” Soriano recalled. “He would say, ‘I’m from the Dominican. My last name is Peralta. They just don’t know.’ ”

Asked about his Spanish and what he would say to Soriano, McLouth laughs. “I like surprising people,” he said.

More on the Nationals:

Nationals Journal: Werth, Williams both like to be aggressive

DC Sports Bog: Check out Harper’s swing (again)

DC Sports Bog: Upper Midwest loves the Nationals

Nationals Journal: Carroll hoping to earn roster spot

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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