Nats need to make improvements
WASHINGTON — Entering Tuesday action, the Nationals were 54-58, 13 ½ games behind the Braves in the National League East and seven games behind the Reds in the Wild Card race. While manager Davey Johnson continues to have a positive attitude about his team, it’s pretty clear why the Nationals may not play in the postseason this year.
They rank near the bottom in offense and defense. They have also had their share of injuries. The worst was Bryce Harper, who missed more than a month of action because of a left knee injury.
“All the little things add up and they can affect your performance,” Johnson said. “It’s my job to stay positive and hope, at some point, we get it all going.”
What improvements should the Nationals make to get better? They need a leadoff hitter. Center fielder Denard Span has hit first for most of the season, and he is hitting .251 with a .310 on-base percentage at the top spot.
Ryan Zimmerman is arguably having his worst year defensively, with a team-leading 17 errors. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. He is still having throwing issues because of the surgery he had on his right shoulder. In fact in early June, Zimmerman said he expects the shoulder to be in rehab mode for the rest of the season, but it will not keep him out of the lineup.
Zimmerman had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last October. While there wasn’t any labrum or rotator cuff damage, Zimmerman needed to have his AC joint fixed, and the surgery revealed the injury to be more serious than anticipated.
It would not be surprising if the Nationals decided to move Zimmerman from third to first base in the future. That could possibly mean trading first baseman Adam LaRoche to make room for Zimmerman.
Asked if Zimmerman needed to play a different position, Johnson said, “With the work he is putting in, I thought it’d take until June. Obviously, it has taken longer. If you see him throw early [during batting practice], he throws deeper and throws the ball on the line.
“I don’t know if it’s physical or mental. I see him throw pretty good, and then in the game, he will want to get a lot of air under it. If that doesn’t get better, obviously, it’s not a good spot for him to be in. At one time, he had a cannon, and we are all waiting for him to come back. I think it’s more mental and not trusting it and cutting it lose. I see him working, and he throws the ball pretty good.”
The bench was one reason the Nationals won the division title last year. This year, not one reserve is hitting above .250 or has provided the pop off the bench. Before the Trade Deadline, the Nationals made an attempt to acquire veteran players for the bench. They were able acquire Scott Hairston from the Cubs, but since he has been in Washington, Hairston has played only against left-handed pitching.
The Nationals may need to look for two starting pitchers. Right-hander Dan Haren said recently he most likely will not be coming back because he has not lived up to expectations. Left-hander Ross Detwiler has missed most of the season because of a back injury. It’s not known if he will be healthy for next year.
The Nationals have a lot of work to do after the season comes to an end.