- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ATLANTA — Washington Nationals hitting coach Lenny Harris is unsettled, even a little dumbfounded by what seems like a team-wide slump. But Harris made one thing clear: He doesn’t feel any pressure.

In his first full year as a big league hitting coach, Harris is presiding over a lineup that entered last night’s game against the Atlanta Braves hitting .219 — the worst mark in the major leagues. But whatever reflection that mark is on Harris as a hitting coach, he said it’s not something he takes personally.

“It don’t really bother me at all,” Harris said. “I struggled before [in the majors], but I was a professional, and I knew how to come out of it. Then again, we’ve got a whole bunch of kids. I had mentors. I had guys who had been in the big leagues to help me get out of it.”

Harris typically shies away from suggesting large-scale technical adjustments to his hitters and said he isn’t trying to overcoach players out of slumps. The best thing he can do, he said, is tell them to stay focused.

“If there’s a strike and I can handle it, I should be able to hit it hard. If they’re pitching me in and I can’t get to it, I shouldn’t swing at it,” Harris said. “[Ryan] Zimmerman, [who is hitting .226], is going through something that he never thought he’d go through. …

“Before I got here, they said, ‘You’re the franchise player.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to step on your feet much, but you’ve got to work a little harder. You’ve got to work a little harder and be a little more disciplined at the plate because if they’re not pitching to you, you can’t go swing at anything.’ ”

It’s difficult to tell how much Harris can do to pull the Nationals out of their slump. But manager Manny Acta doesn’t see anything Harris isn’t doing to fix it.

“All we can do, not only Lenny as a hitting coach but everyone on the coaching staff, is to be supportive,” Acta said. “We’re leading this pack here. It’s a long season. We can’t have long faces. Just continue to be supportive, patting guys on the back and being behind them because it’s going to change sooner or later.”

Young stays in Florida

First baseman Dmitri Young, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 8 with a sprained lower back, stayed in Florida to see a University of Miami specialist about the injury. He is expected to continue his rehab in extended spring training in Viera.

“He’s seeing a back specialist, and we’ll go from there,” Acta said.

Cordero ready to close

Chad Cordero likely will resume the closer’s role soon, after pitching a scoreless eighth, and he said he’s itching to start throwing in the ninth inning again.

“I’m a closer. That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple years, and that’s what I love to do,” Cordero said. “Hopefully after one more game, I can maintain the 87 mile per hour [fastball] and make sure that’s still there. I want to get back in there as soon as I can.”

Cordero missed the first two weeks of the season with shoulder tendinitis, and his velocity dipped below 80 mph Wednesday in New York. But his fastball was back to normal over the weekend against the Marlins, and Acta said he’s comfortable pitching Cordero in back-to-back games.

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