Heisey hopes walk-off homer is spark toward spot on bench

VIERA, Fla. - Today's game was perhaps the wildest the Nationals have played so far this spring, a back-and-forth affair with the Braves that included six home runs on an afternoon when the wind wasn't even blowing that hard at Space Coast Stadium.

It was the last of those six homers - Chris Heisey's three-run, walk-off shot to left in the bottom of the ninth - that secured the Nationals' 9-7 victory and left them an impressive 11-3-2 in Grapefruit League play.

Heisey, who took right-hander Ryan Weber deep, was happiest to contribute after some struggles during the first portion of camp.

Nats-Logo-Hands-Warmup-Sidebar.jpg"I try not to put pressure on myself," said the veteran outfielder, who is trying to win a roster spot as a minor league invitee. "I haven't played as well this spring as I would've liked to so far. But there's still two weeks left, and hopefully I can continue to work with the hitting guys."

Heisey credited hitting coach Rick Schu and assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones with helping him improve his swing over the last month. So far, the result of that work has only manifested itself in four hits in 25 at-bats, but Heisey believes he has made significant progress.

"They're really doing some wonders for my swing," he said. "It's nice that something finally paid off for me today in the game. But my batting practices and my work in the cage has been outstanding, better than it's been for years."

The 31-year-old has established a reputation as one of baseball's most productive hitters off the bench. He sports a .936 OPS in 160 career pinch-hit appearances, having thrived in that role while playing for Dusty Baker in Cincinnati from 2010-13.

Heisey, who said he chose to sign with the Nationals because of his connection to Baker and Washington's close proximity to his hometown near Harrisburg, Pa., is trying to force his way onto the opening day roster. The Nationals could use another right-handed bat on their bench, with only fellow outfielder Michael A. Taylor already assured of a job along with left-handed hitters Clint Robinson and Stephen Drew, and switch-hitter Jose Lobaton.

"It's something I've done for six years now," Heisey said of his pinch-hitting experience. "It's kind of been my role ever since I got to the big leagues: Hitting late in the game. Just kind of get off the bench, go up there and try to put together a good at-bat against a guy that's usually at the end of the game throwing pretty hard."

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