DENVER — One day after lambasting his team’s offensive approach and saying it “has just got to improve,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson made sure to be clear that, in his opinion, no fingers should be pointed toward hitting coach Rick Eckstein.
Johnson spoke at length on Tuesday about his opinion of Eckstein, the work that he does and the responsibility that falls on each of the Nationals’ individual hitters to perform.
“For a hitting coach to take the blame for a guy who’s not hitting or not doing the things they’re capable of doing is a cop out,” Johnson said. “It’s passing the buck. We all feel responsible, myself included, because we’ve been averaging about 2 1/2 runs.”
Johnson wasn’t entirely correct with his stat. The Nationals are averaging 3.73 runs per game but in 44 percent of the games they’ve played this season, they’ve scored three runs or less. They’re still on the plus side in their run differential (they’ve scored 265 runs and allowed 232) but that is mostly because their starting rotation is the best in the major leagues.
Two of the last three years, they’ve ranked in the bottom third among runs scored in the National League. They have the third-lowest total this season.
Still, Johnson said to put the whole responsibility for that on Eckstein isn’t appropriate.
“Let me tell you something,” Johnson said. “The hitting coach is there to organize the hitters and let the hitters know what the opposing pitcher pitches. The teaching the mechanics of the stroke or whatever, they’re already pretty finely tuned by the time (they get to the majors). I couldn’t even hardly remember who my hitting coaches were when I played.
“To put the emphasis on the hitting coach or the pitching coach, if their philosophy is in line with what we think is the correct way to teach hitting, and Rick Eckstein’s approach to teaching hitting is second-to-none… it just tells me how ignorant certain people are in the responsibility that goes with a hitter hitting. It’s his responsibility to get a pitch that he can hit and hit it.
“I’ve had hitting coaches at third base telling me, keep this shoulder in. Or all this stuff. My response to them is, ‘Hell with this shoulder. I’m going to try to time this ball.’ If my timing is pretty good, I’m going to be a pretty damn good hitter… I don’t know any good hitter that ever stepped in the box and tried to remember what the hitting coach told him to do up there.
“His teachings I agree 1,000 percent about. It’s the same approach that the great hitters, if you talk to them, that’s the way they would hit. That’s the way they would try to get their short and powerful stroke. He doesn’t do a lot of mechanics. He talks about seeing the ball, getting a good pitch to hit, seeing the fastball, all these things — but it’s an individual responsibility. When you go out there, nobody’s in there helping you. It’s the same way with (Steve McCatty) with the pitchers. They do their work, he’s good about doing their work and being positive with ‘em. But the pitcher goes out there and when they make a mistake the pitching coach can’t help ‘em. It’s what they do. It’s their job.
As the Nationals prepared to face Rockies left-hander Christian Friedrich on Tuesday night, Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore and Ian Desmond were the only position players hitting over .250 on the season. They were the No. 2, 6 and 7 hitters in the lineup. The issue is not just with one hitter, clearly.
Johnson said the issue and how to fix it is weighing on them all, not just Eckstein.
“Am I putting the wrong guys out there? No. I spend a lot of time on who I should put out there. I’ve told you guys all year long. I see progress, it seems like some guys are getting better at-bats and I really feel that we have the talent. I’ll always feel that. But we’re all in this together.”
After Monday night’s game, Johnson said he felt like, on the whole, a lot of the Nationals’ hitters weren’t geared up for the fastball. They seem to be in-between in what they’re looking for.
“We’re not looking for a breaking ball, we’re not really looking for a fastball,” Johnson said. “We’re somewhere in-between, and then you don’t hit either one hard.”
“That comes from a young approach,” Johnson added. “But I’ve seen it at times from some of the veteran hitters. I know the talent is there, and I know we’re capable of doing it.”