The Washington Times - April 30, 2011, 01:09AM

Laynce Nix hit a ball so hard Friday night that the crowd at Nationals Park gasped audibly at the sound it made coming off the bat — and it wasn’t the two-run homer he hit off Tim Lincecum in the second inning.

This one, a 91 m.p.h fastball, hooked foul into the seats down the right field line — but not before bouncing off the facade of the third deck of seats. 

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Asked after the game if he’d ever hit a ball that hard in his life Nix simply said ‘No.’

His teammates had a bit more animated reaction to the question with one even speculating that had the wind not been blowing out to right field at the time the ball would have easily left the park — and by that he meant the entire stadium. 

Nix ultimately ended up striking out on a foul tip in the at-bat but was still 2-for-3 on the night and struck the decisive blow to Lincecum as Jason Marquis spun a shutout on the other side of things for the Nationals.

The start, which was just Nix’s sixth of the season, may be something we see a lot more of here in the coming days and weeks. Nix is without doubt the Nationals best bat off the bench thus far this season. One of several left-handed bats at Nationals manager Jim Riggleman’s disposal, Nix is now 11-for-35 on the season (.314) and has already hit almost as many home runs in April (3) as he did all of last season (4).

The power is a good sign. Nix has made some mental adjustments at the plate this year — keeping himself calm and relaxed throughout his at-bats and it’s paying dividends in his power numbers.

“My swing feels good and I’m loose,” Nix said. “This early in the year, to be able to square up a few balls, it’s not a bad thing.”

Nix said earlier this week that while he doesn’t like to dwell on how tough the role of a bench player is, it’s not something you can really get used to. He puts in a lot of extra work in the batting cage so that, when his number is called, he can be ready. 

What he’s done so far is hit .314 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Friday he displayed a little more of his defensive ability, gunning Cody Ross out at second base on his attempt to stretch a single into a double in the third inning. Ultimately, in a purely speculative manner, he may be playing himself into more playing time.

“I’ve said many times that that was a great acquisition by Mike (Rizzo),” Riggleman said. “We were surprised that Laynce was still around when we signed him. He did great things on a playoff club last year and he’s been very impressive from Day 1 of spring training.”

It’s no secret that the Nationals’ offense has struggled to find it’s groove here in the early going. Nix was playing left field on Friday in place of Michael Morse, who came off a torrid spring training right into a prolonged slump that, even with an improvement his past few games, has still only produced a .221 average.

Friday night alone the top four hitters in the Nationals order were a combined 0-for-14 and that’s a top four that includes center fielder Rick Ankiel, who’s been hitting second with Ryan Zimmerman out of the lineup, and is now sporting an average of .215.

You’d have to add both of those batting averages together in order to get one close to Nix’s.

Things will certainly look different when Zimmerman returns and the Nationals most likely move Jayson Werth back into the No. 2 spot in the lineup, put Zimmerman third and return Ankiel to the bottom part of the order, and for now it seems the Nationals will allow both Morse and Ankiel plenty of time to improve their numbers but if Nix continues to produced when called upon he could put some pressure on Riggleman to keep his name in the lineup more often.