Washington Nationals: Pitching, Defense, Speed, Athleticism, But Runs?

Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman refused to blame the blown call at first base yesterday in New York for the Nats' second-straight loss to the Mets, pointing instead to how the Nats' offensive struggles put them in a position where the ump's call could cost them. The Nationals' manager went on to tell MASN broadcast team of Bob Carpenter and FP Santangelo that he would continue to show confidence in his players, because the roster they have is the roster the Nationals assembled this season and no one else is coming to help them turn things around. "But let's turn it around yesterday, this early stuff is nonsense, it's not early." 

The Nats' once again failed to score for Livan Hernandez yesterday, getting shut out by New York while Hernandez held the Mets to one run over seven innings on the hill, but he's not the only Washington starter whose efforts on the mound have received inadequate run-support from the players at the plate. "We've got a few guys going through that right now, because we're not swinging the bats, but you know what, somebody's going to pay for this. We're going to start hitting." 

The Nationals enter the three-game weekend series with the Orioles in Baltimore with an NL-worst .223/.295/.342 slash line and a 20-23 record they've scratched their way to in spite of the fact that Ryan Zimmerman's played just eight games all year while key acquisitions Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche have failed to produce at the plate through the first 43 games of the season. LaRoche's struggles in particular have been painful. Though he continues to claim that the "slightly" torn labrum in his left shoulder hasn't affected his swing, the 31-year-old left-handed hitting first baseman's .172/.284/.262 slash and .206 BABIP are a cause for concern even for a player who's a traditional slow-starter. 

LaRoche's last hit, an RBI single, came in the fourth inning of the Nats' May 12th game against the Atlanta Braves. Since then LaRoche is 0 for 25, with the game-ending groundout yesterday coming immediately after the controversial call on Werth at first. On his career, LaRoche has a .247/.330/.434 line against left-handed pitchers. So far this year, that's down to .103/.234/.179 after 21 games and 74 plate appearances, and he's down to .198/.303/.292 against right-handers too from a .274/.347/.493 career line.

Asked about the decision to sign Adam LaRoche at first after Adam Dunn had signed with Chicago, and whether the Nats' new first baseman might feel pressure to replace the offensive production Dunn contributed during his two seasons in the nation's capital, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters this winter that when it came to their production, "I think you're talking about two of the most consistent players that there are,":

"You can look at their numbers consistently and you can more or less draw a conclusion of what [LaRoche] is going to bring offensively to the table. Defensively, he's going to bring run prevention and I think that's going to help balance our club much more. I think we're going to score runs, but we're going to score runs maybe in a different manner than we did last year. We've got the personnel now to go first to third, second to home, scoring from first base and manufacturing some runs where I don't think we did last year."

LaRoche told CSN Washington's Mark Zuckerman, in an article entitled, "Nats Insider LIVE game thread: Nats at Mets" that though it's frustrating to trying to work through his issues at the plate, what's really frustrating is knowing where he's likely to end up while struggling to resolve his issues, "'Obviously, I've learned how to get out of it, because I wind up OK,'" LaRoche told the CSN Washington reporter, "'But I just haven't figured out how to get out of the gate on the right track. That's the frustrating part.'"

"As a team we didn't go first-to-third, second-to-home, and it was a kind of a by-product of we had some older veteran players at second base at the time," Mr. Rizzo said this winter in explaining the way the roster was being constructed for 2011, "and so it's a point of emphasis for me as a National League club, it's hugely important to be athletic and be able to advance on the bases, because it's hard to string together two, three, four, five hits in a row to score multiple runs in an inning." 

The roster was constructed with pitching, speed, defense and athleticism in mind, and they have seen improvements in all four areas, but no one seems to have expected that the offense would be as monumentally bad as it's been thus far. The changes, if they're going to happen, however, are going to have to come from within. "We put this ballclub together," Jim Riggleman said on MASN after yesterday's game, "There's not other people who are going to wave a magic wand and somebody else is going to show up. This is our ballclub and this is what we put together and this is what we have confidence in and we've got to turn it around." 

Tonight's game with Baltimore is the Nats' next chance to attempt to do so...

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