Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was happy with what he saw from 23-year-old starter Stephen Strasburg in last night's loss to Colorado, but he wasn't pleased with what the Nats' offense accomplished against the Rockies' veteran left-hander Jeff Francis, who entered last night's game with an 8.56 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 4 BB's (2.63 BB/9), 6 K's (3.95 K/9) and a 2.05 WHIP in three starts and 13.2 IP. The Rockies' 31-year-old '02 1st Round pick was coming off a strong start against Philadelphia in which he'd held the NL East's 4th place Phillies to a run on six hits in 5.0 IP. The Nationals managed just two runs on five hits in five innings against Francis last night, scoring their runs on RBI doubles by Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, but going 2 for 10 overall with RISP as a team. After Francis was done, the Nats were held scoreless over four innings by the Rockies' relievers as Colorado cruised to a 4-2 win in the first game of the Nationals' four-game series in Coors Field.
After winning six games in a row on the road against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays earlier this month, the Nationals have dropped seven of their last ten while scoring two runs or less in five of those losses and dropping four one-run games over that same stretch. The loss to Colorado last night had the Nats' manager more frustrated than usual. "We just didn't do anything against [Francis]," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, "He threw a lot of off speed pitches to us. Our approach wasn't very good. Just got to get something going here."
"I think we're getting caught in between," Johnson explained when asked about what was causing the troubles with the Nationals' offense, which now has a combined .238/.304/.387 line and the NL's fourth-highest K total. As Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell pointed out on Twitter this morning (@ThomasBoswellWP) things have been particular bad for the offense in the last thirty days:
How bad is Nats offensive slump? Last 30 days, only 1 Nat ranks in Top 120 in MLB in OPS (Harper). Now they can't even hit in Coors Field?— Thomas Boswell (@ThomasBoswellWP) June 26, 2012
"We're getting caught in between fastballs and breaking balls and we're chasing out of the zone," the Nats' 69-year-old skipper explained, "We've got some more veteran hitters that are doing the same thing, but the younger guys are more guilty. But our approach has just got to improve." Ryan Zimmerman has a .184/.208/243 line in the last 30 days. Ian Desmond has a .237/.275/.381 line. Michael Morse? .217/.239/.313. Danny Espinosa's put up a .231/.320/.374 line. Bryce Harper? .281/.355/.479. Man, Harper's good. The Nationals' .224/.283/.367 line in the last 30 days gives them the worst AVG and OBP over that stretch and the second-worst SLG.
"I think we might be over-thinking it a little bit," Davey Johnson continued as he discussed the Nats' offensive issues, "That's something I'm going to address with the group and go into some of these meetings when we look at pitchers and how we're going to approach them. Because our approach is not that great as far as I'm concerned."
"We didn't hardly get good at bats against Francis," the manager explained. As NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman pointed out this morning in an article entitled, "Rattled by the Rockies", the Nationals showed little patience in battling the Rockies' lefty. "Only four of the 21 batters the left-hander faced got ahead in the count," Mr. Zuckerman wrote, "None worked his way into a three-ball count."
"And Francis is featuring basically an 84 mph fastball, a little changeup and slow hook," Johnson said, "The guy that hit the ball hardest was our pitcher. [Ian Desmond] got one. But we've just got too much talent not to be swinging the bats better."
Asked if he had spoken to hitting coach Rick Eckstein about the issues he sees with Nats' hitters, Johnson said, "I talk about it all the time. I talk to hitters. But for some reason or another, from last year to this year, we've been going after pitches out of the zone and sometimes hitters getting caught in between is just a no-no."
"We've faced some pitchers that everybody jumps all over," Johnson concluded, "And they look like Sandy Koufax out there. We've just got to change our approach and get a little smarter." Tonight, the Nationals face 24-year-old rookie left-hander Christian Friedrich, who has given up 21 hits, 16 runs, 14 earned and nine walks in his last three starts and 15.0 IP following a strong outing against Arizona on June 4th in which he held the D-Backs scoreless in 7.0 IP. The Nationals have a .232/.292/.387 line against left-handers this year. They face another lefty tomorrow...