Eckstein out as Nats’ hitting coach, replaced by Schu (updated)

Two days after getting a vote of confidence from Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who called him the best hitting coach he’s had in his 17 seasons as a major league manager, Rick Eckstein has been relieved of his duties.

The news came in a press release issued a few minutes ago. Rich Schu, a former major leaguer who has served as he Nationals’ minor league hitting coordinator for the past four seasons, has been promoted to fill the vacancy.

Schu played for nine seasons in the majors with the Phillies, Orioles, Tigers, Angels and Expos. He spent parts of four seasons - 2004, 2007-2009 - as the hitting coach of the Diamondbacks.

Eckstein had been the Nationals’ hitting coach since Oct. 24, 2008 and was the longest-tenured hitting coach in the National League East. He had previously spent four seasons as a hitting coach in the Nats’ minor league system and had coached alongside Johnson in the World Baseball Classic in 2006.

Asked about Eckstein’s job security after the Nats scored once and stranded 12 runners in a loss to the Dodgers on Saturday night, Johnson said, “He’s not in trouble with me. I think he’s a great hitting coach and I believe in what he teaches. He’s the best I’ve had, hitting instructor. But he takes it harder than anybody. He works harder, he does more than anybody trying to help people. But we’re still young (as a team).”

The Nationals are hitting .240 as a team this season, fourth-worst in the majors, above just the Astros, Mets and Marlins. The Nats have also put up just 3.69 runs per game this season, second-lowest in the majors.

They’ve scored 18 runs in their last 12 losses and have gone 6-for-72 with runners in scoring position over their last 10 games.

This is a move that’s clear intent is to shake things up on a team that has vastly underperformed this season and is currently two games under .500 at 48-50. A number of Nats players have talked in recent weeks about how Eckstein isn’t to blame for their offensive woes, that they are the ones counted on to perform and just haven’t been getting the job done.

With the Nats underachieving in such a dramatic way, however, general manager Mike Rizzo has apparently decided a move was necessary. Johnson has been in Eckstein’s corner all along, and this move likely was not an easy one for him to accept.

The move might end up working in the end. A new voice and a wake-up call might be what this team needs. But unless the Nats start performing better on the field, the firing of Eckstein will be largely cosmetic.

More details and clubhouse reaction to follow.

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