The Washington Times - June 12, 2011, 10:46PM

SAN DIEGO — Matt Stairs will be the first person to tell you he’s not happy with the way his 2011 season has gone. He entered the Nationals’ series finale with the Padres Sunday afternoon — June 12 — with just four hits on the season. For one of the best pinch-hitters in the game, pinch-hitting wasn’t treating him so well.

But when the Nationals finally broke their confounding 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position Sunday afternoon, the man who came home with the winning run was on base because of Stairs. With his fifth hit of the season, he’d ignited the decisive rally in the Nationals 2-0 victory. His own glory was short lived, of course, pulled for a pinch runner in Brian Bixler as soon as he reached first base, but it was his bat that produced the runner who’d score the game-winner.

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“You can sit around and you can make excuses and stuff about not throwing at-bats together and finding your swing but I’m not going to complain,” Stairs said. “It’s one of those things where I signed aboard to be a pinch hitter and you’ve got to take the bumps and hopefully have more good days than bad days — but you’re not going to as a pinch hitter.

“It’s a tough situation. It’s probably the toughest part in baseball to be a pinch hitter. I was happy with this road trip. I was swinging the bat pretty good, feeling pretty good. I only struck out once which is a bonus.”

The bigger bonus was his fifth hit of the season, partly the product of introducing a higher leg kick into his swing — something he worked on with hitting coach Rick Eckstein and discussed with teammate Laynce Nix, who does something similar — to get back to the way he swung in Oakland. The change helps him identify pitches earlier and the result was, as Stairs put it, “the first time I hit a curveball in six or seven years for a base hit.”

Stairs, who has started just three games this season, has taken a lot of heat from fans about his lack of productivity and the roster spot he’s maintaining but his presence is a respected one in that clubhouse. He’s a smart hitter, he shares his knowledge of the game with the youth that abounds around him and, as he showed Sunday, occasionally he can get the hit the team needs. 

His at-bats are going to continue to be limited. Manager Jim Riggleman admitted Sunday that while it’d probably help Stairs to get him a full game every now and then, there’s no way he can take Michael Morse or Laynce Nix — the team’s two best hitters to this point — out of the lineup against right-handed pitching. 

So now he has his fifth hit of the season. It’s not great. It’s not what he wanted or expected, but Sunday it helped the Nationals notch their first winning multi-city road trip in three years.