- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Washington Nationals’ bats are still struggling, but it doesn’t appear the team’s season-long offensive ineptitude will come back to haunt hitting coach Lenny Harris anytime soon.

General manager Jim Bowden gave a vote of confidence to Harris, who is presiding over the team with the second-worst batting average in the majors. He said the work the second-year coach has done behind the scenes will start paying off soon.

“He’s being a part of [the solution] right now,” Bowden said. “We might not have the results yet, but we’re making progress with them. They look better. You haven’t seen it in the game yet, but we’re seeing it outside of the game. It’s coming. You may see it by the end of the weekend. That’s how quick it’s coming.”

Harris, who became the team’s hitting coach in the middle of last season, has come under some scrutiny for a hands-off approach that typically relies on suggesting minor adjustments. But Bowden said the problem doesn’t fall on “any one person.”

In the team’s outfield, where the lack of production has been perhaps the most glaring hole in the lineup, Bowden attributed some of the struggles to the steep learning curves young players like Wily Mo Pena and Elijah Dukes are undertaking.

“In the case of Wily Mo, absolutely. He was given a major league contract when he signed. It’s the only way he would sign, so clubs have been forced to have him in the major leagues, and he wasn’t able to develop properly,” Bowden said. “In the case of Elijah, there’s a lot of different circumstances that surround him that are very unique. We feel it’s better to develop him here than in the minor leagues. With that’s going to come growing pains.”

More opinions on Kearns

Right fielder Austin Kearns sat out again with a sore right elbow, and the team will seek two more opinions on its MRI of Kearns’ elbow before deciding when to play him again.

Bowden said the Nationals sent the MRI to Tim Kremchek, the Cincinnati Reds’ medical director. They also will send it to orthopedic surgeon James Andrews. The image showed some loose bone fragments in Kearns’s elbow, and if he can’t play Monday, the Nationals will put him on the disabled list.

“If he’s not playing because he’s hurt, believe me, the injury’s legitimate,” Bowden said.

He said it’s too early to tell whether the injury might require arthroscopic surgery, while manager Manny Acta said “sooner or later, he’ll probably have some done.”

“But that’s pretty easy,” Acta said. “Guys play through that all the time.”

Kearns was scheduled to take a few swings yesterday, though Acta held out hope that a day of low activity, put together with today’s off-day, would be enough to get Kearns back on track.

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