Watching the Nationals on TV from his home in Florida for the first part of the season, Davey Johnson came to the opinion that the team's struggling hitters were trying to do too much at the plate. Now that he's taken over as manager and seen it first-hand every day, he's flipped that opinion.
The Nationals' offense has been one of the more selective in the majors all season; they've swung at only 45.6 percent of the pitches they've seen, which is the 10th-fewest in the majors. That might work to help them run up pitch counts and work a few walks, but when pitchers think the Nationals might take early in counts and lay off hittable pitches, that strategy is neutralized somewhat.
As a team, the Nationals have put the ball in play on an 0-2 count almost as often as they've put it in play on 1-0 and 2-0 combined. They've put the ball in play on 1-2 counts more often than any other count, and that's followed closely by 2-2 counts. In 0-2, 1-2 and 2-2 counts, they're hitting .142, .151 and .162, respectively.
Put simply, the Nationals aren't getting in hitters' counts enough. And they're paying for it with strikeouts; their 21.5 percent strikeout rate is the second-highest in the majors.
"We're striking out more than I think we should, and we take a lot of called third strikes," Johnson said. "If we're going to go down, let's go down hacking. I look at all the hitters in the lineup, and all the hitters in the lineup have potential to do a lot better than they're doing."
Johnson said he might shake up the lineup tonight, and that could begin at the top; Roger Bernadina is in an 0-for-14 slump in the leadoff spot. But as a whole, he thinks there might be a fix to be found in the Nationals' plate approach.
"From afar, I always felt like we were trying to do too much," he said. "Now that I'm here on top of it, it appears to me that we're maybe being a little cautious and not coming out of swinging. That's something I've been addressing with them as a whole."