Harris trying to impart wisdom to Nats

Harris trying to impart wisdom to Nats

ATLANTA -- Entering Monday's action, the Nationals are hitting .219 as a team, which is not what they expected after picking up outfielder Lastings Milledge and catcher Paul Lo Duca this past offseason. Of the regulars, only shortstop Cristian Guzman is hitting over .300.

Hitting coach Lenny Harris said he is surprised by the team's slump, but he doesn't feel pressured to get the offense going.

According to Harris, he is trying his best to prepare hitters for games. The players have early work in the batting cage on a daily basis, and he reiterates to his starting position players that they must be patient at the plate.

"[The hitting] hasn't picked up like I thought it would pick up," Harris said. "It is a mystery to me. The whole offensive team went from doing well to searching for a base hit. I guess that is a part of baseball. You live and you learn.

"It could be personal reasons and could be something [that made them angry]. I try to talk to each and every one of them [on an individual basis]. I ask them, 'Are you OK? Are there any problems at home.' They tell me they are fine. Those are my guys and I ask them how do they feel. 'Don't go out there and press. Go out there and have fun. There is no pressure on you guys.'"

Harris, who is the Majors' all-time pinch-hit leader, feels the team needs more than just a hitting coach to get them out of slump. The players need to help each other. During his playing days, Harris remembers when teammates such as Eric Davis, Barry Larkin and Mike Scioscia used to go to him and other teammates and tell them what they were doing wrong at the plate.

Harris is not sure if the Nationals have those types of players. Harris acknowledged he is not at the players' only meetings, so he is not sure what is said. In the meantime, Harris is planning to give his hitters words of encouragement.

In fact, Harris had to be a big brother after Monday's game against the Braves. After going 0-for-4 and seeing his average dip to .100, outfielder Wily Mo Pena was crying in the locker room. Harris said he has to be more than a hitting coach to the players.

"We have a whole bunch of kids. I don't know if they have the communication like when I played," Harris said. "[When I played], guys would motivate each other. That's a big plus. Veterans always stepped it up for the guys in their 20s. If they had to say something to put you in your place, they would say it.

"[The Nationals] are surrounded by young kids, so you assume that they are going to make mistakes. But it gets kind of bad when you see them do it every night -- same plays. You just want to encourage, give them some love and show them, 'Hey man. Keep working.' It's going to get better, and I think that would help the young guys."

The pinch-hitters are not doing much better. They were 3-for-36 entering Monday's action. Unlike the position players, Harris would like the pinch-hitters to be aggressive and swing the bat. However, they have been taking too many pitchers. Lack of experience is the reason the pinch-hitters haven't done well.

"They are taking a lot of pitches because we are down four runs or five runs and [manager] Manny [Acta] tells them he doesn't want them not to swing at the first pitch," Harris said. "These guys are used to playing every day. They are not used to sitting on the bench."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.