For Hairston, a step in the right direction

CHICAGO - In the three days before he was shipped from the Cubs to the Nationals in a July 8 trade, Scott Hairston hit two home runs over just five at-bats.

Then, the power disappeared for a little while.

Hairston got off to a slow start with the Nats, hitting just .200 with a .529 OPS over 37 plate appearances entering last night. He wasn’t showing any frustration outwardly, keeping his cheerful, joking demeanor in the clubhouse, but he was getting a bit annoyed with his inability to deliver with his new team and make a good impression.

The 33-year-old certainly did so last night, smoking a go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh inning that gave the Nats a 9-6 lead and led to an 11-6 win over Hairston’s former team.

Hairston was brought in to be the Nats’ right-handed power bat off the bench, so he knew the low power numbers and 1-for-10 line in pinch-hitting situations entering last night wasn’t acceptable. And even after his big blast last night, Hairston still came down hard on himself for what’s been a rough handful of weeks.

“No, I haven’t made the most of my chances,” Hairston said. “The way the year’s been going, there’s been so many situations where I haven’t got the job done. It’s a struggle, but every day’s a new day. I’ve just been scratching and clawing the last few weeks, but you can’t get too down because once you get down on yourself, this game can keep you down.

“I just want to keep my focus on doing my job, do something on a given day to help the team win. Whatever that may be. Baserunning, making a catch, driving in a run. I just keep that my focus and I just try to learn from the mistakes I’ve made and move forward.”

There have been some silver linings in the numbers Hairston has put up since coming over to the Nats. He’s now batting .297 and slugging .519 against left-handed pitching, which fits in with his career-long dominance of southpaws. Hairston has also been decent when he gets a chance to start, hitting .250 with two doubles and two walks in 24 at-bats with the Nats when in the starting lineup.

The overall struggles this season made yesterday’s big moment a little sweeter, Hairston said, but in the veteran outfielder’s mind, he’s still got plenty more work to do to feel like he’s truly pulling his weight.

“As a player you can never be satisfied,” he said. “I don’t care what anybody says. I pride myself in doing my job well. So far this year, that hasn’t been the case, but there are plenty more games left and everybody individually can help the team out and has an opportunity to do that. That’s what I try to keep my focus on whatever the opportunity is to help win that day.”

Hairston knows that he’ll be with the Nats next season, as he’ll be in the final year of his two-year, $5 million deal signed this last winter with the Cubs. The job security isn’t the issue.

The issue is Hairston feeling like he’s playing to the level he knows he’s capable. Last night was a step in the right direction.

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