The Nationals have probably been the most disappointing team in the National League. Generally considered a good bet for 95-some wins before the season, they're now long shots to make the playoffs. And the obvious reason is their hitting, as the Nationals currently rank next-to-last in the league in scoring, which is actually last in the Non-Marlins Division.
Before Monday, though, nobody was blaming hitting coach Rick Eckstein.
Little more than a month ago, manager Davey Johnson couldn't have been more strident in his defense of Eckstein:
"I wholly agree with Rick’s philosophy," manager Davey Johnson said Wednesday. "Heck, at times, I’ve helped him formulate that philosophy. But he’s one of the most outstanding hitting instructors I’ve been around – conscientious, hard-working. If anything, he works too hard. But if you want to fire the hitting coach, you might as well fire me right with him. Because he’s got the same philosophy I do, as far as hitting goes."
And here were some players, just a day or two ago:
But talk to center fielder Denard Span and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and Eckstein is not the one in the batter's box. It's up to the players to perform, they said. Manager Davey Johnson already said Eckstein's job is not in jeopardy.
"Rick doesn't hit. We are the ones that go up there and hit," Zimmerman said. "He does everything he can to prepare us. At this level, hitting coaches let you know what the pitcher throws, lets you know what the scouting reports say, and he is great at that. Obviously, he knows all of our swings and what we need to do to stay at the highest level that we can. But to put the blame on him is not what we need to do. We are the ones that need to get the hits."
Monday, the Nationals fired Rick Eckstein. They did not, you'll no doubt be shocked to learn, fire Davey Johnson. Nor did Johnson resign as a matter of principle. Because this is how these things work. It's possible that Eckstein's a lousy hitting coach, or that the players have stopped listening to him, or that he's been taking catnaps under the bleachers during the games.
What's likely is that the Nationals are simply going through some typical poor luck and injuries, and finally the general manager just couldn't live any longer with his own impotence. So he did about the only thing he could do.
Now the Nationals' hitters will probably improve. In fact, the Nationals' important hitters were already pretty good. It's the bench that's let the club down, and the hitting coach doesn't spend a great deal of time with those guys anyway. The Nationals' regular lineup consists of seven guys having pretty good seasons plus Denard Span, so it's hard to figure what a new hitting coach is going to accomplish.
But hey, at least somebody did something. It might even look like a brilliant move. Next year, when the Nationals are contenders again. With their new manager.
For much more about the Nationals and their hitting coaches, please visit SB Nation's Federal Baseball.