Eckstein trying to get Nats' bats out of a funk
WASHINGTON -- After Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Twins, Nationals manager Davey Johnson acknowledged that he was frustrated mostly because of the team's offense, which ranks near the bottom of almost every category in the Majors.
Imagine how hitting coach Rick Eckstein feels. He is the first to say the team is not producing offensively. Eckstein talked about how the Nationals had a chance to score in the fifth inning. Roger Bernadina led off with a double, but he only made it as far as third base, as Kurt Suzuki grounded out, Gio Gonzalez flied out to right and Denard Span struck out to end the threat. The Nationals went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position for the day.
There are times when the players are overaggressive and swinging at pitches that are not in the strike zone. There are also times where the players are tentative at the plate. They sometimes take pitches they should swing at.
"We are putting ourselves in situations to score more runs, and we are not doing it," Eckstein said. "We have to do a better job producing. As the hitting coach, I feel I'm charge of that and have a hand in that. By and large, I need to do a better job. We are all in this together. We are a team, and I think everybody feels responsible.
"Again, as the hitting coach, the so-called leader of the offense, I have to do a better job with a better message or a better game plan. That's the way I look at it at the end of the night. I don't doubt myself in the preparation and the process. I put my best foot forward every day, I give it my best. At the end of the day, it about production."
What can the Nationals do to improve the offense? It's a combination of things. They can utilize every resource they can -- look at video, take advice of the coaches and manager around them and take advantage of the message that is being delivered. What is the message?
"Each guy gets a different one. ... Each guy has a different way of going about it.," Eckstein said. "But the message overall is get on pitches in the zone you are comfortable [with] and very good [at hitting]. Get on those pitches. Don't sit back and take pitches and think that working the count is going to be the end all, save all. Get on those pitches, trust yourself and the work that you put in."
Eckstein has the support of Johnson, who recently told a radio station, "If you fire [Eckstein], you might as well fire me." The duo has the same philosophy when it comes to hitting: Hit the ball where it's pitched.
"Davey has been a great advocate and mentor towards me." Eckstein said. "I know the work that I put in. I know what I talk about. I know what I think about. I know how I treat these guys on a day in, day out basis. At the end of the day, I talk to Davey every day. I get his perspective. 'What do you see? What do you think, What do you feel.' ... At the end of the day, it's about production. I feel confident in the things that we talk about, the things that we work on, how we go about it. At the end of the day, I feel real good about it. But, again, it goes back to production. We either produce or we don't. That's the hardest part about the seat that I sit in."
After Sunday's doubleheader against the Twins, the Nationals go to Colorado to play a three-game series against the Rockies. Eckstein's wife, Caroline, reminded him that it was in Colorado where the Nationals were able to get out of their hitting slump last year.
"I feel very strongly about this group. I know this group very well. Yeah, we are battling some injuries, but all in all we are still a good group. It's just a matter of getting on that good page and staying on that page. But, again, it comes back to me."