Kearns Seeks Consistency At the Plate

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 16, 2007

TORONTO, June 15 -- On this date a year ago, when he was a Cincinnati Red, Austin Kearns had 12 homers and 38 RBI, numbers that propelled him to career highs in both categories even after a jarring midseason trade to the Washington Nationals. At that point, he had a .490 slugging percentage.

That kind of potential is the reason the Nationals signed Kearns, 27, to a three-year contract extension -- with a club option for 2010 -- prior to this year. The team envisioned Kearns as a run-producer entering the prime of his career. But even after going 2 for 3 with a double and a walk in Friday's 7-2 loss to Toronto, Kearns's numbers don't back that up -- five homers and 25 RBI. His slugging percentage is nearly 100 points lower -- .391.

" 'Frustrating' isn't the right word," Kearns said, "but for every player, when you don't feel like you're doing your part, that's the worst."

Kearns now has at least one hit in 10 of his past 12 games, and Manager Manny Acta felt like Kearns was swinging more consistently. Acta, though, said he doesn't worry about his right fielder.

"We're expecting more [production] than that," Acta said. "But I like the fact that he gives us quality at-bats all the time. . . . He gives you good at-bats and he plays so hard and works so hard that there's only so much you can do."

In 130 games since the trade from Cincinnati -- a month shy of a full season -- Kearns is hitting .254 with 13 homers, 61 RBI and a .405 slugging percentage. He has, perhaps more than any National, hit several balls hard for outs -- but he knows they don't help his production.

"It's about results," Kearns said. "It doesn't matter how you get them. A hard-hit out gets you a pat on the back, and that's it."

Home Run

Though seemingly every conceivable injured Nationals pitcher threw minor league rehabilitation assignments Friday, Ontario native Shawn Hill arrived home -- to play catch. Hill, on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, said he felt better than the last time he threw.

"I was able to get full range of motion last time," he said, "but I had more discomfort."

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