A few more Nationals position players trickled into Viera early this afternoon, which is something Manager Matt Williams does not take lightly. “It tells me they take pride in their performance and they take pride in their team,” Williams said. “So that’s a good thing. The fact they’re here is fantastic, because it shows me they’re here and they’re ready to go.”
The most notable new face today was outfielder Nate McLouth, one of the Nationals’ key offseason acquisitions. The Nationals are counting on him to improve their dismal bench performance from a season ago. Last season in Baltimore, McLouth played 146 games. But McLouth took the two-year, $10.75 million deal the Nationals offered knowing full well he would serve as a bench player behind Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth.
Essentially, McLouth chose to be a fourth outfielder on a contender rather than a starter on a lesser team.
“That’s a tough choice,” McLouth said. “There were other options. But I know that I liked this situation. It was one I was real comfortable with and real excited about.”
The chance to win, McLouth said, drew him to Washington. He also felt confident in his role after conversations with Williams, General Manager Mike Rizzo and assistant general manager Bryan Minniti. McLouth has known Minniti, who like McLouth started his career in Pittsburgh, for more than a decade.
“My role came up a little bit, but it was … I’m real comfortable with what I think is going to happen,” McLouth said. “It’ll be a situation where it evolves during the season. And where that will take us, I don’t really know. God forbid if somebody gets hurt, that’ll involve me. But giving guys days off here and there, that’ll kind of play itself out, I think.”
In the winter, both Williams and Rizzo said they envisioned McLouth taking around 350 plate appearances. They want to preserve Harper and Werth over the long season. McLouth can also play center field, so he can spell Span when necessary, too.
“I think the important thing is keeping guys fresh, because everybody likes to play every day,” McLouth said. “Everybody likes to. I think there’s a real benefit in being able to get a guy a day off every once in a while. I think the fact that I can play all three outfield positions definitely helps. So it’s something where when a guy needs a day, maybe feeling a little nicked up or tired, that’s what I’m here for.”
On nights he doesn’t start, McLouth figures to the first pinch hitter Williams tabs. In 134 career plate appearances as a pinch hitter, McLouth has hit .192/.263/.283.
“That’s I think the hardest thing to do in baseball, to be a good pinch hitter,” McLouth said. “The key is, you get one at-bat but you can’t think of it like that. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket and think I’ve only got one chance. Because then if you don’t come through, you’re crushed. You feel like you wasted the game. You really just have to treat it like any at-bat. Sometimes you’re going to be successful, sometimes you’re not.”
If he had taken a job with another team, McLouth may not have to worry as much about pinch hitter. But he came to Washington to win, and “I couldn’t have been more excited,” he said.