Of all the disturbing trends for the Washington Nationals through the first month-plus of the 2019 campaign, and there have been a number of troubling developments with injuries, and underperformance, one of the things the front office in the nation’s capital didn’t expect is a team that strikes out with shocking frequency.
Heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the New York Mets, the Nationals’ 408 Ks overall as a team were the second-most in the National League, behind only Milwaukee’s Brewers, who’d piled up 422 strikeouts on the season.
The Nationals’ .233 AVG as a team before the second of three with NY in D.C. was 11th of 15 NL teams, their OBP (.307) was 10th, their SLG (.394) was 11th as well, and their .291 BABIP was ranked 10th.
“We’ve just had a little bit of bad luck,” rookie outfielder Victor Robles told reporters after a 1 for 4 night on which he hit his 7th home run of the year on Tuesday.
“We’ve hit the ball well, right at people, and unfortunately I think that’s just a matter of time, and it will hopefully change.”
GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning that he is concerned about the strikeouts in particular, and the Nats’ NL-low .197 AVG in the month of May before the second game with their division rivals from New York.
“It’s a drastic contrast from where we’ve been in the last couple — previous seasons,” Rizzo said of all the strikeouts.
“It was a point of emphasis that we made when we put together the roster. We wanted to be a more [offensively] efficient team, we needed to do the little things to be more [offensively] efficient, to score runs without the home runs, so I think that the strikeout number is alarming. It’s something that we preach — two-strike approach, we preach that we need to put the ball in play, we need to give ourselves a chance. We don’t have that 40-45-home run type of guy on the roster, so we have to be more efficient and utilize our at bats more. We can’t count on the three-run home run and that type of thing.”
They don’t have that 40-45 HR guy, and they haven’t had hitters like Trea Turner (since April 2nd), or Anthony Rendon (elbow contusion) or Juan Soto (back spasms) for a while earlier this month, or Ryan Zimmerman (who was struggling before he injured his foot), or Matt Adams (shoulder strain), so they’ve been fielding lineups that don’t provide the punch they thought they were going to be getting.
“Another part of it I think is the injuries,” Rizzo acknowledged.
“We’re without our 2-3-4-5 hitters and Matt Adams for an extended period of time, and you know, since Rendon went down April 20th, like I said, I think we’re 7-15 with a .318 winning percentage with those guys out. Rendon is back for handful of days, he looks like he’s coming around. Soto, I think he’s back for 2-3 games now, I think he’s going to start heating up, and we get Trea Turner back and hopefully down the road Zim and Matt Adams, and we can take a hard look at where we’re at and see if we can get some momentum and start winning games.
“I look back at this team and this roster,” he added. “To me, it’s a championship caliber roster when we’re healthy and when we’re playing well and we just haven’t played well throughout the early portion of the season this year.
“We’ve got to find ways to win until we get all of our guys back.”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked before the middle game of the three-game set with the Mets about how his hitters can start to turn things around at the plate.
“Nobody is going to step in the box for you, so you have to prepare and figure out how the pitcher is going to pitch you,” the second-year skipper said.
“There [are] what I call team at bats,” he continued, “and that’s situational, what a situation dictates, whether it’s first and second, whether you want to bunt or not. There’s a lot — we prepare players every day for the game. Some hitters against some pitchers don’t see them very well. So we tell them, ‘Hey look, in this situation, first and second, you don’t see this guy very well, it’s a good time to bunt, just get the guy over,’ man on second base, no outs, you know, different things of that nature, but when you’re up there, the biggest thing, hey, be aggressive, know who you are. If you’re a fastball guy, you look for fastballs, hey look for fastballs. Don’t sit on breaking balls, because all of a sudden a lot of times — and I’ve done it, where you’re, ‘Oh, I know he’s going to throw me a breaking ball,’ and all of a sudden he throws a fastball almost right down the middle and you’re, ‘Uh...’ and it’s a strike three. You know. Just know who you are, be ready to hit the fastball, and adjust to everything else.”