Riggleman gives slumping Nats a breather

Riggleman gives slumping Nats breather

WASHINGTON -- With the Nationals playing 25 games in 25 days, interim manager Jim Riggleman gave third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and right fielder Josh Willingham the day off on Monday.

"It's strictly to have a day, sit back, watch [a game] and regroup a little bit," Riggleman said.

Both Zimmerman and Willingham are in hitting slumps. Zimmerman has hit 10-for-59 [.179] since July 1, and Willingham has seen his batting average go down from .304 at the All-Star break to .284 entering Monday's action.

Before the game, Zimmerman didn't practice with the team on the field, but was working on his hitting in the indoor batting cage. The Nationals want to see him use his legs a little more when he is at the plate. Zimmerman is known to have a leg kick when he swings the bat.

"We are just working on just getting him in his position," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "The last couple of days, he has swung the bat OK, but if you are evaluating the numbers part of it, we have to get this thing going."

As for Willingham, the All-Star break didn't do him any favors, according to Riggleman.

"The break came at the wrong time. He was so hot, it seems like, for a month when the break came," Riggleman said. "I don't think those three days off was what he needed at that point."

Riggleman inserted Willie Harris at third and Austin Kearns in right field. With Kearns no longer playing every day, Riggleman wanted him to get at-bats at least for the next two days. Before Monday's game, Kearns had only nine at-bats during the month of July.

"When we call on him to pinch-hit, he has a little something to draw from, as opposed to getting one at-bat during a week," Riggleman said. "It's not really giving him a chance to help the club."

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