Nationals’ bench continues to struggle

At the close of spring training, the Nationals opted to put together a bench full of veterans in their 30s, many of which had double-digit years of service in the major leagues. The plan was for those players to share their experience and success in the game - four of the five players on the Nationals’ ideal bench have World Series rings - with young players while providing some experience in late-game situations.

But so far, those players haven’t done much at the plate.

The Nationals have just one pinch hit this season in 25 at-bats, and that came from Jesus Flores, who’s back at Triple-A Syracuse. Manager Jim Riggleman said the stat isn’t completely fair, because it doesn’t account for players who have entered the game as pinch hitters and gotten hits once they shifted to a defensive position later in the game. But as a whole, the Nationals’ substitutes are hitting just .145.

Now, some of the results are the product of a bench stretched thin by the injury to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman; Alex Cora and Jerry Hairston Jr. have been playing almost every day, so their numbers aren’t coming off the bench at the moment. Hairston has started eight of the Nationals’ last 10 games, and is hitting .370 in that time. Cora is 2-for-7 in his last two games, both starts. And for the most part, both players have played solid defense when they’ve been asked to fill in for Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, who just returned from paternity leave.

When the Nationals reserves have come off the bench, though, they haven’t been able to produce late in games. That’s part of the reason the team’s two worst scoring innings are the seventh and ninth.

“I think our bench players have contributed very well,” Riggleman said, “but it’s not necessarily showing up as a pinch hit.”

If there’s one exception on the bench, it’s Laynce Nix, who has a pair of homers and seven RBI in 18 games. He hit a three-run homer on April 10 against the Mets after entering the game in the eighth inning, and starts tonight in left field in place of Michael Morse.

“It’s a product of getting some left-handers in the lineup,” Riggleman said. “Nix is tough on everybody, but I think he’s particularly tough on left-handers. So we’ll see if we can maybe string some hits in there with left-handed hitters.”