The Washington Times - April 25, 2011, 11:06AM

PITTSBURGH — The Nationals will leave Pittsburgh after tonight either one game above or below .500 but right now, they’re a .500 team through the season’s first 20 games.

And, as many a Nationals player or coach or box score will tell you, they’re not really hitting yet.


The headline to this post isn’t exactly true. Wilson Ramos, Laynce Nix, Jason Marquis and Ryan Zimmerman are actually all hitting over .300. But Zimmerman hasn’t played since April 9, Marquis only gets at-bats once every five or so days and Nix is primarily a bench player — though 9-for-30 in that role is an impressive mark.

Ramos is hitting .351 and there’s really no arguing that. The Nationals catcher has made back-to-back starts just once this season, alternating time with Ivan Rodriguez, but he’s hit from the moment the season began and while the Nationals transition to him as the team’s every day catcher, his bat will become more and more integral in the lineup.

However, after those four, the team’s best hitter this season is rookie Danny Espinosa. After a 3-for-5 day at the plate in Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Pirates, Espinosa — who turns 24 today — is now hitting .281 on the season and has a .281 average since moving to the leadoff spot for the last eight games. (He’s also hit two triples, a home run and knocked in eight runs from that position in the lineup).

“We’re going to win our share of games,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “When we’re hitting on all cylinders we’re going to do fine but we’ve got to win games when we’re not hitting on all cylinders.”

So far, they’ve won at least 10 that way and Sunday they picked up 15 hits in the victory, an encouraging sign for an offense that has, clearly, struggled to get off the ground. 

Jayson Werth is hitting a cool .200, Adam LaRoche .227, Rick Ankiel .213 and Ian Desmond .203. Michael Morse was hitting .133 eight games ago but has since hit at a .435 clip and sits now at .256 — the second highest average for an everyday player behind Espinosa. Still, those aren’t exactly fear-provoking numbers from the middle of the Nationals order.

“We’re close,” Werth, hit his third home run on Saturday night but was then 0-for-5 on Sunday, said. “We’re getting there. I feel like it’s all going to line up here pretty soon. Everybody’s going to get locked and we’re going to take off. As little as we’ve hit, we’re not in a bad spot.”

With Zimmerman still out with no projected return date (he’ll be reevaluated when the team returns to D.C. tomorrow) if the Nationals can use the next week or so to get some of their hitters where they expected them to be, getting Zimmerman back could be, as Riggleman put it last week, like making a big mid-season trade.

“It’d be huge (if the middle of the order could heat up),” LaRoche said. “You look at the averages right now and it’s not real good and not a ton of guys on base. I don’t think you’re ever going to have everybody clicking at once but if we can get the majority of the guys going and getting a lot of guys on base, we got one through nine (that) could drive in runs.”