Nationals’ offensive struggles not putting stress on Eckstein, Riggleman says

PHILADELPHIA - The Nationals enter Wednesday’s game with the Philadelphia Phillies still in the throes of a season-long slump on offense. Their .225 average, .301 on-base percentage and .347 slugging percentage are all in the bottom three in the National League, and every time they’ve lost to the Phillies this year, they’ve been beaten in a complete game from the opposing pitcher.

But it’s almost historically unprecedented for a team to stay this cold for the entire season, and manager Jim Riggleman said there’s no reason for it to stress hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

“It’s kind of like the players,” Riggleman said. “If they’re playing hard, that’s all you can ask. And if Rick is working hard, which is he - if he can look himself in the mirror and know that, ‘Hey, I’m doing everything I can to get him going ...’ Nobody works harder than Rick. I don’t think he would be feeling pressure over it.”

Eckstein, who’s in his third season as the Nationals’ hitting coach, was working with players in indoor batting cages before Wednesday’s game and wasn’t available for comment. He’s almost universally respected by players for his personalized approach to hitting and his tenacious work habits. He helped the Nationals improve in almost every offensive category in 2009, but the team scored 55 fewer runs in 2010 than it did in 2009, and has started even slower this year.

“Most managers leave (instruction) up to your hitting coach. That’s what we do here,” Riggleman said. “So as a manager, you control maybe where they hit, hit and run, strategically. As far as the mechanics of why they’re not hitting, when they get hot, why they got hot, that’ll be the quality of the players. And they’re going to get hot.”