Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo walked through his team’s clubhouse Saturday morning at the end of a tumultuous week.
On Monday, he’d fired his hitting coach — a move manager Davey Johnson publicly disagreed with. His team went on to lose five of their next 7 games, a brutal stretch that mostly the same punchless offense that has plagued the Nationals all season. Friday night, he demoted one-time closer Drew Storen to Triple-A.
With two more games left on their homestand, and five days to go before the July 31 trade deadline, the Nationals sat at 50-54.
“We’re in the midst of trying to assess (why the team has struggled),” Rizzo said. “I think we still have two months to figure it out and we’ll assess it throughout the rest of the season, come up with a battle plan in the offseason to try and remedy that.
“We still have a lot of baseball left, and we’re looking forward to that. Like I said, I still like this ballclub. I still believe in it.”
For all of the Nationals’ struggles, the fact that they are playing in arguably the worst division in baseball continues to give them life. At the close of business Friday night, they were 8 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves — a large, but manageable margin if the Nationals ever hit the stride that has for so long eluded them.
But their position heading into next week’s trade deadline is an interesting one.
The Nationals have set starting position players at all eight spots in the field and a rotation topped with three stalwarts. Rizzo reiterated multiple times that he still likes the core of the team he and his staff have assembled, but to this point it’s obvious the entire team has underperformed.
“We’ve got a lot of trade discussions,” Rizzo said. “We’ve received calls, we’ve made calls. I’m not going to go much more into it than that other than we’re going to do what we do at every trade deadline: we’re going to try to improve this ballclub for 2013 and beyond.”
Rizzo did, however, specify one area in which he could see the team upgrading: the bench. Rizzo has already made one move to help bolster the bench by acquiring Scott Hairston — for this season and next — to give them a more veteran right-handed bat.
With Chad Tracy and Roger Bernadina currently serving as their left-handed presence on the bench, hitting .179 and .186 respectively, the Nationals might look to beef up that side of things, too.
“If we could tweak or improve certain spots on the bench, I think that would be one place that we would attack,” Rizzo said. “But we’ve got ourselves a pretty talented group of guys that we’re committed to and we like where we’re at.”
The Nationals could acquire a starting pitcher, given the uncertainty at the back-end of their rotation with Taylor Jordan on an innings limit and Dan Haren in the midst of a difficult season. But starting pitching is at a premium at the deadline, and prices are high.
A few weeks ago, when the Nationals acquired Hairston, Rizzo said he did not feel the team had any “splashy” moves in their future.
He said Saturday that remains true.
“I still feel the same way,” he said. “Things haven’t changed since we spoke on the trade deadline last.