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Nats players defend hitting coach Eckstein

WASHINGTON -- Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein has been the center of attention lately because the team's offense is one of the worst in the Major Leagues.

But talk to center fielder Denard Span and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and Eckstein is not the one in the batter's box. It's up to the players to perform, they said. Manager Davey Johnson already said Eckstein's job is not in jeopardy.

"Rick doesn't hit. We are the ones that go up there and hit," Zimmerman said. "He does everything he can to prepare us. At this level, hitting coaches let you know what the pitcher throws, lets you know what the scouting reports say, and he is great at that. Obviously, he knows all of our swings and what we need to do to stay at the highest level that we can. But to put the blame on him is not what we need to do. We are the ones that need to get the hits."

Span said Eckstein helps the players prepare for the pitcher they are facing that day.

"We as players have to take some responsibility. He can't get in the box and have an at-bat for us," Span said. "It's hard for me to say it's his fault when we haven't been hitting."

The Nationals hope they can start hitting on Sunday, with first baseman Adam LaRoche back in the lineup against Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. It allowed Johnson to put to put Bryce Harper back in the leadoff spot. Span started the game on the bench, while Scott Hairston received the start in left field. When Span returns to the lineup, he will hit seventh in the order.

LaRoche missed the last two games because of the flu, but he says he is feeling better.

"I never had a good flu. It was no fun. I had body aches, sweating and chills and then sweating, everything is sore," LaRoche said. "I feel all right. Obviously, the strength is not there. I feel a lot better. I sent [Johnson] a text telling him I could play if they let me."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
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