MIAMI — When Gio Gonzalez got his first major league hit back in April, it was treated like a novelty. Smiled at and chuckled at (and considering Gonzalez’s own reaction when he gets on base that’s easy to understand). That’s usually the response when a pitcher gets a hit. That’s just the way a National League lineup usually works. Eight hitters, one out.
The Nationals are changing that.
Before we go any further here, let’s remember that we’re talking about numbers that, in comparison to regular offensive statistics, will look extremely low. But for pitchers, they’re actually quite good.
The Nationals pitchers will go into tonight’s game against the Marlins with a .198 average as a staff. They’re also slugging .298, have hit two home runs (Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann) and have successfully executed nine sacrifice bunts and one sacrifice fly.
Right now, they lead the league in pitcher batting average, 18 points ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies .180 in second place.
The Nationals have had good hitting pitchers before. Jason Marquis was a career .197 hitter with five home runs. Livan Hernandez was a career .222 hitter with 10 homers. But together on the Nationals’ staff for most of 2011, that staff still only hit .138. This staff has been flirting with .200 on the whole almost all season.
But leading the charge this year is not a veteran guy who’s had plenty of at-bats. It’s Stephen Strasburg.
“Edwin and I were talking yesterday that we’ve got to find a way to get Strasburg in more games,” said left-hander Ross Detwiler, the only starter not to notch a hit in any of his starts this season. “He’s hitting .400 and he’s squaring the ball up every time.”
Strasburg is hitting .389 and, while he has far fewer at-bats than the rest of his offensive teammates, he’s leading the Nationals in slugging by almost .200 points.
Pitchers usually get a bad rap for their hitting but, on the Nationals’ staff in particular, they’re all capable athletes. Strasburg said he worked extremely hard on his hitting over the winter. And Zimmermann, who hit his first career home run Monday afternoon reaching 377 feet to go over the wall at Marlins Park, hit .370 with 17 doubles and 14 homers in his career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
The Nationals pitchers take batting practice at home every day and often in the cages on the road with bench coach Randy Knorr.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t surprise their teammates when they hit homers.
“You don’t expect it, but it’s cool,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “It’s nice. It’s a fun thing for them and they work hard.
“They’ve hit well and, for the most part, they’ve bunted well. Here and there they’ve had a little trouble. But anytime they can hit and handle the bat, it’s huge… They hit (in batting practice) almost every single day. It’s starting to pay off.