How, and when, can Nats expect to add power to lineup?

Runs are a hard thing to come by for the Nationals at the moment. This team, you may recall, was just shut out by the White Sox in back-to-back games, not exactly a source of pride.

Why has it been so hard for the Nats to score runs? Because this is a lineup that typically needs to do three things right to get someone across the plate. First somebody has to get on base. Then that somebody has to advance into scoring position. And then somebody has to drive that teammate in.

This is how it works when the majority of your hits are singles and doubles. You have to draw walks. You have to steal bases. And even after all that, you still need someone to deliver in a clutch situation.

There is, of course, another way to score a run, and all it requires is one swing of the bat from one player. It’s called the home run, and you can be forgiven if you don’t exactly remember what one of those looks like, because they’ve been in short supply around here.

The Nationals have hit only 35 homers in 42 games this season. That’s tied for third-fewest in the majors, with only the White Sox and Cardinals (32 a piece) behind them.

The 2023 Nats didn’t exactly hit for power, either. But even that lineup did more damage than this one has, totaling 153 homers (29th out of 30 clubs, ahead of only the Guardians). This year’s team is currently on pace for only 135 homers. That would be the club’s lowest total for a full major league season since 2007, back when it called cavernous RFK Stadium home.

So the question is: Where can this team find any additional source of power? And when can it be expected?

The quickest answer may come later today if the Nationals activate Joey Gallo off the injured list. The big slugger has been out three weeks with a sprained shoulder, but he appears just about ready to return.

Gallo has spent the better part of two weeks on a rehab assignment, first with Single-A Fredericksburg, then with Triple-A Rochester. All told, he has played in 10 games, during which time he has hit four homers (including one Wednesday night for Rochester).

It must of course be noted that Gallo’s full stat line from the rehab assignment includes a .152 batting average (5-for-33) with the four homers, eight RBIs, 11 walks and 12 strikeouts. He’s basically been living up to – or down to, depending on your perspective – his longstanding reputation as an all-or-nothing hitter. But at this point, the Nats will take some home runs from the guy, even at the expense of a bunch of strikeouts and few other hits.

The Nats also hope to have another proven power hitter back in the lineup within the next few weeks: Lane Thomas. Thomas has now been out 3 1/2 weeks with an MCL sprain in his left knee, but he has shown some real signs of progress in his recovery.

Thomas has been taking full batting practice for more than a week. And on Wednesday he ran the bases in Chicago for the first time since suffering his injury. He still has several more items to cross off his list, and he’ll need to go on a rehab assignment of his own once he’s cleared. But the Nationals will gladly welcome back the guy who led the team with 28 homers last season as soon as humanly possible.

And then there’s the guy everyone wants to see standing at the plate in a Nats uniform. James Wood remains at Rochester, where he continues to mash Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .356/.460/.582 slash line, with 12 doubles, seven homers, 25 RBIs, 29 walks and 33 strikeouts in 38 games.

Wood is getting better as the season progresses, batting .412 with five homers and more walks than strikeouts through his first 14 games of May. He owns a more-than-respectable .893 OPS against left-handers.

We don’t know when the Nationals will make the move and call up one of the top-rated prospects in baseball. But whether that day comes in a week, two weeks or a month, they can only hope he provides them with the kind of power boost they sorely need.

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