Saturday afternoon, before batting practice began, Nate McLouth walked past hitting coach Rick Schu in the Nationals dugout. As McLouth poured himself a cup of water, Schu saw a moment to reinforce his uncomplicated message to Nationals hitters.
“What are we doing?” Schu asked McLouth. “We’re hunting the cheeeeese!”
“The cheese,” McLouth affirmed, nodding.
Schu’s high-energy style has worked for the Nationals, and so has his imperative to, above all else, look to smash to fastballs. Even with a lineup diminished by injury, the Nationals rank third in the National League at 4.43 runs per game, and their .739 OPS ranks 10th in the majors. One key has been their improvement over last season against fastballs.
According to data accumulated by FanGraphs.com, the Nationals ranked 27th in the major leagues against fastballs last season. This year, they rank eighth in the majors and third in the NL. Schu’s simplified approach has helped the Nationals jump on fastballs.
“We hunt heaters,” Schu said. “If you can’t hit a heater, you can’t play in this league. You better be able to whack one. You get in position to hunt a heater, it gives you an aggressive mind-set. It gives you good position. It just covers everything.”
As for how the Nationals fare against other pitch types, they struggle with cutters and crush changeups. Per FanGraphs, here’s how the Nationals rank so far against each pitch: