MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Nationals have played exactly 31 games of the 2011 season. To say that they have not yet seen the offensive production they were expecting through those first 31 games would be an understatement.
As the Nationals continue to attempt to find a way out of the funk that has plagued almost every member of the lineup, the focus has been on staying positive, keeping their approach consistent and not letting the weight of prolonged hitless streaks affect them mentally.
For hitting coach Rick Eckstein, it’s been a challenging time. But staying positive is the only mentality he knows.
“I’m very confident in the offense,” Eckstein said Friday, one day after he and Nationals manager Jim Riggleman held a closed-door meeting with the hitters to reiterate that positive attitude. “There’s not one guy that doesn’t show up, ready, prepared and has a great work ethic.
“We’ve gotten off to a little bit of a slow start but the bright side of that is that we’re still doing enough to win a game so that’s been the silver lining of it, but yeah, we do have to do a better job and it starts with me as the hitting coach.”
The Nationals entered Friday hitting .226 as a team with a .298 on-base percentage. The numbers speak for themselves, but Eckstein said Friday that what’s most important for the Nationals now is not to focus on them. An 0-for-4 where the ball was hit hard and happened to be caught is still an 0-for-4 – but if the approach in the at-bat was a positive one, that’s a point to be proud of and move forward with.
“I see guys getting closer,” he said. “I see guys trying really hard. Sometimes when you’re where we’re at, their hearts in the right place and they’re trying really hard and sometimes the best adjustment is to take it easy. It’s easier said than done.”
“The result is only one aspect of it,” he added. “I hang my hat on the fact that how the guys are preparing, how they’re working, what their mindset is and how they’re going out and executing that plan. You can do all of those categories and square the ball up and have nothing to show for it.”
The meeting, which both Riggleman and Eckstein described as extremely positive – and was followed with arguably the Nationals’ best effort against Roy Halladay they’ve had since he became a member of the Phillies – still didn’t do anything to immediately make those ugly numbers more like each hitter’s career norms.
Until that point, though, Eckstein said one of the most important things is for his hitters not to get dragged down by those numbers. For example, first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is hitting just .198 on the season presents an interesting case. It’s easy to say that LaRoche has struggled early this season. But he’s also a historically slow starter. The question is when it crosses the line from a slow start to a struggle at the plate.
“I think that as a professional that’s why you rely on your resume and the things that you’ve done and your background and your history to say, I know who I am,” Eckstein said. “If you get caught up in the moment, then you ultimately will fall into that trap.
“The guys can’t get caught up in that stuff … OK, all right. You’re 1-for-20, you’re 1-for-17. OK. How does that have a bearing on what we’re doing tonight. If you’re going to continue to hold on to that and bring that baggage to the plate with you tonight, shame on you. We have to get rid of that baggage and move forward.
“What matters is today. Today is today – and you’re the best. If you don’t believe it then you need to find a new profession. That’s the way my focus has to go to. We have to focus on the right things, put our mindset forward and we have to grind.”