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Nats look to spark slumping offense

Nats look to spark slumping offense

SAN DIEGO -- After scoring just one run in each of the past three games, the Nationals opted to rest a few regulars, and they did something atypical prior to Wednesday afternoon's series finale in San Diego -- they took batting practice.

Normally, a day game following a night game would mean a day off from a pregame batting session, but with the offense struggling to put runs on the board, interim manager Jim Riggleman had the players out swinging before the game as the club looks to snap a five-game losing skid and avoid a sweep by the Padres.

Riggleman also juggled the lineup in hopes of giving some regular starters a game off, and effectively two days of rest with the off-day on Thursday.

"Sometimes we'll [make changes] for a day game after a night game to give a guy a break here and there," Riggleman said. "We have a couple of guys who are struggling a little bit. We'll have a guy or two sit back and watch one, and sit back and get re-energized a little bit."

Both Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes were out of the lineup on Wednesday. Willingham struck out four times on Tuesday night and has just five hits in his past 11 games, batting .135 over that stretch. The slump comes on the heels of a hot couple of months for Willingham, who still has a solid 93-game span since May 5 over which he has hit .301 with 20 home runs.

"It's hard to stay as hot as [Willingham] was," Riggleman said. "He's just in one of those funks where it seems like even if a pitcher makes a mistake now and then, he doesn't make any on you. He kind of came into this series here struggling a little bit, but we're confident we'll get him going again on Friday."

The lineup swaps also gave opportunities to Jorge Padilla and Justin Maxwell, who filled in at right field and center, respectively. Padilla, in particular, needs the work after getting just one start since his callup on Aug. 5.

"Padilla has just been coming off the bench and not really getting any consistent work," Riggleman said. "He's going to be useless to us if we don't get some of the rust off of him and get him a few at-bats with the combination of Elijah getting a break."

Maxwell rejoined the team on Monday after being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse, and in addition to the solid defense both Padilla and Maxwell bring to the team, Riggleman hopes the two can inject some offense as well.

"We're confident [defensively]," Riggleman said. "Hopefully, John Lannan will be able to hold the other club down, and sometimes these lineups can produce a bunch of runs."

Producing runs is what the Nationals need most to break out of their current rut, and Riggleman's choice to schedule batting practice before a day game shows just how urgent that need is.

Tim Powers is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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