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Early struggles at plate could get lift from youth

Early struggles at plate could get lift from youth

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Early struggles at plate could get lift from youth
LOS ANGELES -- Although they're tied with the Braves for first place in the National League East, the Nationals are having serious problems getting on base.

Entering Tuesday's action against the D-backs, the Nats are near the bottom in offense with a .226 batting average. It's the same problem they had the previous two years. With runners in scoring position, for example, Washington is 38-for-169 (.225).

"We missed too many pitches that we should hit, and we are fouling them off," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "We get opportunities to drive in runs from scoring position, we are just not doing it. We are fouling them off, or we are striking out. The bottom line is, the only thing that is going to change is executing."

First baseman Adam LaRoche feels bad for Washington's pitching staff, which ranks first in the Major Leagues with a 2.33 ERA. It hasn't received a lot of offensive support thus far.

"It's frustrating for our pitching," LaRoche said. "We feel terrible, because they are doing everything they can possibly do. They are throwing some great games -- all of them. We are not pushing the runs across."

It also doesn't help that the Nationals are missing middle-of-the-order bats in third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left fielder Michael Morse. Zimmerman is on the disabled list because of an inflamed right shoulder, while a torn right lat (shoulder) muscle has prevented Morse from playing a regular-season game.

Zimmerman should be back on the field within two weeks. Morse is expected to rest four more weeks before doing any baseball activities.

"They are a big part of our lineup," Eckstein said. "Obviously, every team wants their three- and four-hole hitters in the lineup, but in the grand scheme of things -- no matter what we are faced -- we have to find a way. We have those opportunities. We have to take advantage of them, and that's 25 guys. To say we don't miss Zim and Michael is not accurate, but at the same time, the strength of our club is 25 [players], not just two."

To add more offense to the team, the Nats have promoted two of their top prospects to the big club -- Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore.

At the time of the promotion, Harper was hitting .250 with a home run and three RBIs, but he was hitting the ball much better this week. Manager Davey Johnson announced that Harper was going be the everyday left fielder. Harper doesn't look overmatched. He is 2-for-6 and already has made a great catch in the outfield.

"We can use the left-handed bat in Harper," Johnson said. "I'm going to put him in left field and let him play. So he was a natural pick. He has been swinging the bat well."

Moore, 25, most likely will come off the bench and spell Harper in left and LaRoche at first base, but Johnson declined to say what his plans were for Moore. Johnson will likely make an announcement on Tuesday before the Nationals play the Diamondbacks.

Moore, who is ranked No. 14 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Nationals prospects, was having a better season at Triple-A Syracuse than Harper. Moore was hitting .286 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs before getting called up. In the last two years, Moore has hit a combined 60 home runs with 201 RBIs for Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

It wouldn't be surprising if Johnson switched Harper to center field and let Moore play every day in left. Johnson is known to go with a youth movement when it's a viable option.

"It shows we have talent in our system that is going to infuse the lineup at the Major League level -- homegrown talent coming up to the big leagues and contributing, getting the chance to show what they can do," Eckstein said. "... I think the energy that they bring on a daily basis, it's great. They are well-respected, high-energy and very talented young men. So it's going to be fun."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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