The change began Saturday night, when Ryan Church was inserted into an 8-0 game just to get some at-bats. He singled twice in two times up, helping the Washington Nationals come back to forge a tie in a game they eventually lost, 9-8, to the New York Mets.
"It's finally come around," Church said. "A little progression each at-bat, each day, and last night was just a turning point to get back to being me."
With that in mind, Manager Frank Robinson inserted Church into the leadoff spot for Sunday's game against the Mets, and Church responded with a 2-for-3 day that featured two walks, a double and single, both hits in the first inning of the Nationals' 7-4 victory. He became the first player to have two hits in an inning for the Montreal-Washington franchise since Brad Wilkerson did it on July 26, 2004, against the Mets.
Before Saturday night, Church hadn't had two hits in a game since July 22 against Houston, and he had searched for opportunities, as well as his swing, in the meantime. Once a strong candidate for the National League's rookie of the year award, his playing time diminished with the arrival of outfielder Preston Wilson in a trade with Colorado, and his average dropped from .325 on July 16 to .289 coming into the weekend. He's now back to .300.
Sunday, he played in place of Wilkerson, who is in a 1-for-21 free fall that has his average at a season-low .246. Will Church continue to play in Wilkerson's place?
"On Tuesday, I'll make a decision on that," Robinson said.
Anatomy of a Slump
First baseman Nick Johnson went 0 for 4 with a sacrifice fly, dropping his average to an even .300 and leading to a lengthy meeting with Robinson after the game. Johnson, who is 3 for 28 since hitting a solo homer in his first at-bat Aug. 15 in Philadelphia, hasn't been below .300 since May 3. He said he felt terrible at the plate.
"I've got to let the ball travel and allow my hands to work," he said. "Right now, I'm drifting, and I'm not allowing my hands to be free, so my body's getting in the way of my swing."
Robinson said he called Johnson in to pick his brain and see how he was feeling. Johnson, who was on the disabled list in July with a bruised heel and has recently been wearing a wrap on his lower back after games, pronounced himself healthy. Robinson told Johnson to "listen to what people say," Johnson said. "If it's good, take it in. If it's not, throw it out." . . .
Mets rookie Mike Jacobs homered in his first major league at-bat, the fourth Met to do so and first since Kazuo Matsui in April 2004. . . .
The Nationals scored six runs in the first inning for the first time since May 8, 2003, when the Expos scored six against San Diego.