All season - and even stretching back into last season - the Nationals' situational hitting struggles have been a big reason why their offense has flailed. They are hitting just .229 with men in scoring position, and their inability to manufacture runs has stung them at times, too; they have only 31 sacrifice flies all season, the third-fewest in the National League.
But again yesterday, they got a key contribution from a young hitter they weren't expecting to come through this soon: first baseman Chris Marrero.
The Nationals' top pick in the 2006 draft went 1-for-2 with a pair of RBIs Sunday, helping the Nationals avoid a sweep with a 4-3 win over the Marlins. The key moment came in the second inning, when Jonny Gomes was at third base with one out; Marrero lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Gomes when he sprinted home and barely slid under Brett Hayes' tag.
It was Marrero's third sacrifice fly in just 21 games. No Nationals player has more than five all season.
"I was trying not to roll on a pitch. He (Marlins pitcher Brad Hand) might have wanted me to roll on a changeup, (being) a lefty," Marrero said. "I was just trying to let it get deep, get some extension on it, hit the ball in the outfield."
It's tempting to make too much of a few at-bats in September, especially for a player like Marrero that hasn't had enough time for pitchers to figure him out yet. But the Nationals have always believed his swing would play in the major leagues, and they've been particularly impressed with his ability to hit the ball to all fields. In his short time in the majors, he's shown a solid hitting approach that's helped him drive in nine runs.
"The first few days he was here, he was kind of feeling his way," manager Davey Johnson said. "Now he's letting more of his talent out and he's trying to attack the ball a little more. That's just what happens with youngsters. I think he's real comfortable out there."
Marrero hasn't homered yet, but his power numbers were never huge in the minors, either; his highest homer total in a season was 23, and that was in 2007 at Single-A Hagerstown and Single-A Potomac. But he's been able to sting line drives, like he did on a double to the gap in center field yesterday.
And one way he's making a good impression for 2012 is by helping to fill one of the Nationals' big needs for 2011.
"He's doing a good job. I always thought the highest jump was Triple-A to the big leagues," Gomes said. "You can go rookie ball to Triple-A and it's still not as big a jump as Triple-A to big leagues even thought its one level higher. ... He's consistent. He doesn't look overmatched. It's just going to be a small amount of at-bats, a little appetizer for him, but he's holding his own. He's fitting in with the guys."