Getting on the root of the problem

Want to see something funny? Take a look at the strike zone plot from Steve Lombardozzi's ninth-inning at-bat against Mets closer Bobby Parnell last night that resulted in the walk-off sac fly that gave the Nationals a 3-2 win.

Of the nine pitches Lombardozzi saw, exactly one was in the strike zone. Lombardozzi - a guy who is one of the most disciplined hitters on the Nats' roster - kept swinging at pitches at his eyeballs. But, hey, he eventually got the job done.

Jayson Werth returned to the Nationals lineup last night after a month off while he was rehabbing a strained right hamstring. In that time away from the field, Werth said he'd had a lot of time to study why the Nats have been so mightily ineffective from an offensive perspective.

The 34-year-old looked at numbers that broke down where the Nationals stand in relation to the rest of the league in various categories. He watched film to try and analyze why the Nats have been unable to push runs across this season, both with and without Werth in the lineup. And the veteran right fielder came to a relatively simple conclusion.

"The one thing that really sticks out to me on this club is our OBP," Werth said. "We're not getting on base like we should."

Werth is no dummy. The Nationals currently rank last in the major leagues in on-base percentage, reaching base at a miniscule .287 clip.

For comparison's sake, the Astros, a team that is loaded with unproven young players and veterans playing out the last couple years of their careers, have a team on-base percentage that's 15 points higher than the Nats.

Take a look at last night's game and you'll see a perfect example of why the Nats have struggled through so much of the season's first two months and also what can happen if they can start turning the tide and getting guys on base at a more consistent clip.

Going into the ninth inning, the Nats had just four hits and one walk all ballgame. They'd had exactly two at-bats with runners in scoring position in eight innings, and had five frames where they'd been retired in order without a single batter reaching base.

How do you expect to win ballgames when that happens? Crush seven solo home runs? Not gonna happen.

How do you expect to come back from a late deficit when that happens? Numbers like those explain why the Nats were 0-21 when trailing after six innings going into last night's ballgame.

You can't come back in games when you don't get runners on base and give yourself a shot at moving guys over and getting them in.

Last night, it took the Nats nine innings to get going, but against Parnell, it all came together. Ryan Zimmerman led off the ninth with a double, barely beating Rick Ankiel's cannon of a throw to second base. Adam LaRoche singled Zimmerman in. Ian Desmond doubled. Roger Bernadina was intentionally walked.

The Nats put pressure on Parnell from the opening batter of the inning, and it paid off.

"There in the ninth, we showed it," Werth said. "We got guys on and we got them in in a big situation. Hopefully we can build on that."

So how do they keep that going? How do they build on that and carry it forward?

"Just continue to have quality at-bats and working pitchers and not giving in," Werth said. "We got the guys. We got the guys to do it. It's just a matter of, like Davey says, guys living up to what they're capable of doing and playing the game like they're capable of playing.

"I think everybody in here believes in each other and believes in this team. We'll be fine, we just need to get it going."

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