Johnson defends hitting coach Eckstein

Johnson defends hitting coach Eckstein

Johnson defends hitting coach Eckstein
DENVER -- The Nationals have scored just seven runs in their last four games entering Tuesday's contest against the Rockies. It's nothing too unusual for a club with the fourth-lowest runs-per-game output in the National League (3.73).

While fan frustration begins to simmer -- three of those four games have been losses, with quality starts from Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman being spoiled -- manager Davey Johnson insists that hitting coach Rick Eckstein is miscast as the scapegoat.

"I don't like pointing fingers," Johnson said. "The hitting coach is there to organize the hitting times, let the hitters know what the opposing pitcher [throws]. The teaching and mechanics of the stroke -- these players are pretty finely tuned by now. I can hardly remember who my hitting coaches were. For a hitting coach to take the blame is a cop-out, passing the buck. We all feel responsible, myself included."

Eckstein is in his fourth year with the Nationals. Last season, Washington scored the fifth-fewest runs (629) in the National League. In 2010, the third-fewest (655). The 2009 season was the most productive, when the team's 710 runs was good for No. 9 in the league and eight below league average.

But those were years of little expectations. The Nationals are now holding a 3 1/2 game lead in the NL East entering Tuesday's game against the Rockies, thanks to a pitching staff that ranks best in the Majors in most major categories. To sustain it, and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the bats will have to wake up soon.

"I know the talent [in the lineup] is there, we just need a rash of quality at-bats," Johnson said.

Injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth haven't helped, but neither has the team's lack of focus at the plate.

"I don't like us getting in between," Johnson said. "You're not looking for a breaking ball and you're not looking for a fastball, and then you don't hit either. A lot of that comes from a young hitter, but I've seen it from our veterans."

As for Eckstein's approach as a coach, Johnson hasn't seen any better in his 16 years as a manager in the Majors.

"His approach to hitting is second to none, and I have a little experience in these lines," Johnson said. "The responsibility goes with the hitter. It's his job to get a pitch to hit, and hit it. The hitting coach can't help him. I don't know any good hitter who stepped into the box trying to remember what the hitting coach told him to do."