Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says there is only one problem with his club.
“We’re playing terrific baseball except for the fact that we’re struggling with runners in scoring position,” Rizzo says.
Entering Tuesday, the Nats ranked 23rd in the majors in runs and 26th in batting average with men in scoring position. At 21-26, they were in last place in the NL East.
Rizzo, though, does not appear to be looking for scapegoats.
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The team clearly misses third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has appeared in only eight games and is not expected back from abdominal surgery until mid-June.
And while the Nats have yet to exercise their 2012 option on manager Jim Riggleman, Rizzo says he is satisfied with both Riggleman and hitting coach Rick Eckstein.
On Eckstein: “He prepares players well. They work extremely hard. It’s up to the players to perform.
“The performance level with runners in scoring position hasn’t been good. But it’s not due to any lack of work, caring or trying. It just hasn’t happened yet. But I think we’re getting closer and closer every day.”
On Riggleman: “I like the way we’re playing. We’re playing clean baseball.
“Am I happy with the won-loss record? No. But I think it’s really based on us not hitting with runners in scoring position, getting the big hit. I hope that turns around. We’re played good enough baseball to be way better than our record indicates.”
The Nationals recently lost struggling first baseman Adam LaRoche, who has a torn labrum in his left shoulder. But they activated outfielder Rick Ankiel on Tuesday, and it’s possible Ankiel will be an option at first, along with Michael Morse, Alex Cora and Matt Stairs.
Rizzo says he is “very happy” with the team’s three young up-the-middle players – catcher Wilson Ramos, second baseman Danny Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond.
All have been slumping offensively.
“They will go through peaks and valleys,” Rizzo says. “But one thing I’ve witnessed: They could easily take their offensive woes to the defensive side, and that hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite has happened. These guys have played very well defensively.
“We still feel very good with our young core of players. They’re getting valuable experience now in the big leagues and we’re going to be better for it.”
— Ken Rosenthal