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Nationals players take blame for Eckstein's dismissal

Zimmerman, Tracy, LaRoche, Desmond defend former hitting coach

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals scored five runs in three games against the Dodgers, capping the most disappointing series of an already disappointing season. Entering Monday's game against the Pirates, the Nationals had the fourth-worst batting average in the Major Leagues (.240) and they had scored fewer runs than any Major League team except the Marlins.

But after learning on Monday that hitting coach Rick Eckstein had been fired, several players said that Eckstein was not to blame for their offensive woes this season.

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"It's the players' fault," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're the ones not hitting, we're the ones not scoring runs. When it comes down to it, no hitting coach or pitching coach can do anything about this but us."

"A lot of us feel like we had some responsibility in him being let go," Chad Tracy said. "There's nobody on this coaching staff that works harder than Rick Eckstein. It's unfortunate just because it's not his fault."

Manager Davey Johnson said that he has so much respect for Eckstein that he had to deliver the news to him personally. The Nationals' skipper found Eckstein running on a treadmill, watching video of Pirates pitchers to prepare for Monday's game.

"You want a hitting coach who's in the cage all day long, always there waiting for guys to come down there," Adam LaRoche said. "I don't think you could ever walk in that cage anytime of the day and not see Eck in there."

Added Ian Desmond: "If I said, 'Rick, I want to go out and hit in some rain and lightning,' he would do it."

Eckstein coached four Silver Slugger Award winners during his more than four years as hitting coach, including LaRoche, Desmond, Zimmerman and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg. While Desmond praised Eckstein for helping him reach those heights, Zimmerman doesn't think that changing hitting coaches will have any effect on the team.

"I've hit the same way since I was 10 years old," Zimmerman said. "When you get to this level, it's your job to hit. We get paid a lot of money to hit and do our job. ... No coach is going to come in here and turn someone who isn't a .300 hitter into a .300 hitter. When you get to this level, you are what you are."

Tom Schad is an associate reporter for

Washington Nationals, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, Chad Tracy, Ryan Zimmerman