The Washington Nationals are last in baseball in batting average (.251), slugging percentage (.386) and runs. Since the all-star break, they are hitting .234. And before Monday's game against the Atlanta Braves was postponed by rain, they had gone 21 straight innings without scoring a run.
With numbers like that, particularly at a time when the team is fighting to stay on the fringes of a playoff chase, the focus shifts to the man leading the lineup, hitting coach Tom McCraw.
"Anybody they bring out there to throw looks like Bob Feller," McCraw said Monday. "I'm embarrassed. I don't know about the hitters, but I'm embarrassed."
General Manager Jim Bowden all but threatened wholesale changes to the lineup after Sunday's 6-0 loss to St. Louis. But Monday, Manager Frank Robinson stood up for McCraw.
"Any time a coach has to take the full blame, he's the fall guy," Robinson said. "He can't go up there and hit."
McCraw said his duties at times like these are two-fold. First, he must get established hitters such as Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro back to their old habits.
"You simply sit them down and soft toss and get them back into a rhythm or a thought process," he said. "You simply make suggestions to established hitters -- at least that's what I do."
He said his job with younger hitters is to "help them elevate their games to another level."
McCraw hit .246 over 13 major league seasons from 1963 to '75. He has served as a hitting coach with the Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets and Houston Astros. But he said the current struggles are particularly distressing.
"I probably get more frustrated, more embarrassed, than the hitters do," he said.
Doubleheader Rotation Fixed
The Nationals tinkered slightly with the rotation after Monday's rainout, announcing that Esteban Loaiza will start the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader, scheduled to begin at 4:35 p.m. Livan Hernandez will pitch the nightcap.