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A few notes on some of the Nationals offense

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ATLANTA — After the week the Nationals’ offense had, particularly their struggles driving in runs, it was interesting to see them awaken so mightily against the Braves and Jair Jurrjens. It’s not every day the Nationals hit four home runs in the same game. In fact it’s only happened on three other occasions. Twice when they hit four each on back-to-back nights against the St. Louis Cardinals in Ryan Zimmerman’s first series off the disabled list in June, and when they hit six in a 17-5 thrashing of the Orioles in May. So let’s focus, for a few minutes, on the four players who hit those home runs.

Michael Morse: Morse hit his home run in the second inning, and finished just a triple shy of the cycle. It was Morse’s 23rd home run of the season, a total that has long since surpassed his previous career high for a year. Morse continues to have not just a career year but the best of any Nationals hitter.

Perhaps what is most impressive about Morse, though, is how well he’s been able to maintain a high level of consistency this season.

Here are Morse’s numbers by month since he turned things on in May:

May: .403 AVG/.422 OBP/.774 SLG
June: .299 AVG/.375 OBP/.607 SLG
July: .344 AVG/.400 OBP/.533 SLG
August: .322 AVG/.402 OBP/.544 SLG

Ryan Zimmerman: The Nationals third baseman, who sent a three-run shot to right center to really break the game open Tuesday night, was also only a triple shy of the cycle Tuesday night, a big night for him after going 1-for-10 this weekend in Cincinnati. Zimmerman noticed a change in what he was doing at the plate this weekend after the second game in Cincinnati and made the proper adjustments to get himself back. 

Since returning from abdominal surgery, Zimmerman has hit .291 with a .345 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage and, for the most part, he’s regained the form the Nationals have come to know and expect out of their franchise player. 

But even after a day off Sunday and a team-wide off day on Monday, he wasn’t exactly praying for a triple Tuesday night.

“I don’t think anyone wants to run from home to third right now, in September,” he said with a laugh. “If I would have hit one I would have given it a try.”

Danny Espinosa: The Nationals second baseman’s power numbers have significantly tailed off in the second half of the season. After setting a record for home runs before the All-Star break for rookie second baseman, Espinosa hit just his third home run of the second half Tuesday night. The contrast might be stark but it’s not something that has alarmed him greatly.

“My power numbers in previous years, they’d fluctuate month to month,” Espinosa said. “I’ve never been a guy that will consistently hit four or five a month. I’ll go through a stretch where I’ll hit one, then eight, then two then six. I think it’s just one of those things, when you find your swing, when you find your stroke, a whole bunch of them will come.”

Espinosa has gone through some extremely trying stretches that have not helped his batting average — for example, a 17-game stretch from July 30 to August 18 where he hit .206 with just five extra-base hits (all doubles) and struck out 17 times. In the 11 games since, however, he’s hit .282 with a .381 on-base percentage, two homers, two doubles and fewer strikeouts.

“I like his at-bats,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s not chasing as much. He went through about two weeks where I thought he chased a lot out of the zone. When he makes them throw it in there, gets his pitch, he’s an awfully good hitter.”

“I feel ike I’ve done a better job chasing less bad pitches,” Espinosa agreed. “I’m just trying to stay within my zone. Sometimes it can get a little wide but I try to stay within my zone and do as much damage when I can. I think the main thing is when you start struggling you think about everything you’ve got to do right as far as your swing instead of seeing the ball and then you go back to ‘Hey, I’ve got to see the ball before I can put a good swing on it.’ That’s kind of what I got back to, just see a good pitch and try to put a swing on it.”

Laynce Nix: Last but not least, Nix hit a bomb to the second section of seats back in right field to cap the Nationals homer parade Tuesday night, a two-run shot. It was Nix’s 16th home run of the season, setting a new career high for the left-hander. 

In 2009, Nix finished the season having played 116 games and hit 15 homers. He’s already played 107 for the Nationals this year with 16 homers — and that’s with an ailing Achilles that needs constant tending to and the addition of Jonny Gomes to the Nationals’ lineup to share time with him in the outfield. 

Nix had lulled a little since Gomes joined the team, but in the last 12 games or so, Nix’s numbers have begun to go on the upswing once again. He’s hitting .281 in that stretch with two homers and four RBI. In the 12 games before that (since Gomes’ arrival) he was hitting .171 with just one homer.

Earlier this season, when Nix was starting to display some of the devastating power that’s come to be almost expected out of him when he gets into a ball, I asked Nix if he was surprised at all by the frequency with which he’s been able to hit homers this year. After all, he’d hit just four with Cincinnati in 2010. He simply said that he was not — not in the least bit — and it’s safe to say that signing him late last offseason has worked out extremely well for both parties. 

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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