KANSAS CITY - Any discussion of how the Nationals can improve their offensive production almost certainly starts with two struggling lineup members who have track records of success: Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman. The two infielders have lagged behind others through the season's first month, combining for just one home run and nine RBIs (eight of them via Zimmerman).
There are signs of encouragement, though. Or, at least, signs of bad luck that may change.
Rendon, in particular, has been robbed of a host of potential extra-base hits. And his .279 batting average on balls in play is a full 32 points below his career mark, often an indicator of bad luck.
That's all reason enough for manager Dusty Baker to believe it's only a matter of time before the young third baseman gets it going.
"He's been the hard-luck guy on our team," Baker said. "Every staff has a hard-luck guy, and every batting order has a hard-luck guy. But if he keeps hitting that ball hard, something good's going to happen. I know it's frustrating to him some, especially to see other third basemen progressing well, especially when you are one of the elites in the league. You want to keep up with the elite, if not be the elite. Anthony's going to have a whole bunch of good fortune coming, because he can hit. Water seeks its own level, sooner or later."
Zimmerman, meanwhile, continues to hit the ball as hard as just about anybody in the majors. His average exit velocity off the bat of 95 mph ranks seventh in baseball.
And, at last, a couple of those well-struck balls found turf during last night's 2-0 win over the Royals. Zimmerman drove in the game's first run with a double over right fielder Paulo Orlando's head, then doubled to the warning track in left-center in the top of the ninth. He has now reached base in four of his last eight plate appearances.
"If you haven't noticed, his patience has gone up since the St. Louis series (last weekend)," Baker said. "He's not chasing bad pitches. And that's the whole thing. If you can stay off chasing bad pitches and concentrate, it's a matter of concentration and discipline."
Other news and notes before tonight's game...
* Bronson Arroyo continues to attempt to return from a potentially career-ending shoulder injury, though the 39-year-old right-hander is trying something brand new in a last-ditch attempt to avoid forced retirement.
Arroyo (who has partial tears of tendons in his rotator cuff) is now trying to throw sidearm or three-quarters in an attempt to alleviate the pain he still feels when throwing in the more traditional, overhand position. He's rehabbing at the Nationals' spring training complex in Viera, Fla.
"Because it hurts if he gets on top," Baker said. "So we're taking our time. And if not, if nothing else, he's a good guy to have in your organization."
* Ben Revere is playing for the third straight day at Triple-A Syracuse, his fifth overall game on his rehab assignment with the Chiefs. The center fielder has reported no issues yet, though he still needs to play a full, nine-inning game before he comes off the disabled list for the first time since straining his right oblique muscle on opening day.
The Nationals remain hopeful Revere will join them sometime during this weekend's series in Chicago.
* Baker and a group of Nationals coaches and players got a private tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum this morning. Baker has been to the museum (which is located in Kansas City) several times over the years, but many of his companions (including Bryce Harper) were making their inaugural visits.
"I just tried to put a group together to go, guys that were curious about going and let history teach them what happened in the past," Baker said. "It's always something new that you learn, even though I've been there quite a few times."