WASHINGTON -- Friday nights can be filled with merriment, release, and relaxation. A party feel is easy to come by at what is the end of the work week for most. And, the weather in the District was primed for that type of evening: low-80s at first pitch in Nationals Park, high 70s by the end.
In between the first and final throw, there were few jolts, few chances, few successes. The Nationals conjured four hits -- two of which were solo home runs, two of which were singles -- during their 3-2 loss to Miami. They are in last place in the National League East Division.
“We just didn’t hit the ball [Friday],” Davey Martinez said.
That’s accurate. What was once viewed as a long lineup which stood to benefit from the addition of the designated hitter is now a pockmarked grouping.
Adam Eaton has a .620 OPS. That was 141st out of 158 qualifiers in Major League Baseball when the Nationals walked off the field. He went through one particular three-pitch at-bat Friday when he did not look competitive. He took a first pitch close to middle-middle for a called strike. Eaton then swung at and missed the next two. Both were at the top of the strike zone, if not just out of it. Both were giant swings. He dropped his helmet, bat and elbow guard and trudged toward right field.
Eaton’s giveaway at-bat came after Trea Turner’s solo home run cut Miami’s lead to 3-2. Juan Soto was on-deck. It was a space for the Nationals to grind toward another run. Instead, it was a quick out.
Martinez has kept Turner and Eaton 1-2 in the batting order throughout the season. Soto made a brief appearance as the No. 2 hitter when Eaton received a day off against a left-handed starter. The reason to keep the lineup the same is an attempt at consistency in an otherwise tumultuous season. The reason to alter it is the current failings of Eaton and to give Soto, by far the team’s best hitter, more opportunities.
Carter Kieboom’s OPS is down to .604. He was hit by a pitch Friday, bumping it back over .600 following a dip to .591. He has not played enough to move onto the leaders list. If he was, he would be 146th in the league. His current OPS is 406 points below what Anthony Rendon delivered at the position last season. The Nationals knew there would be a gap between the rookie Kieboom and MVP finalist Rendon. They endeavored to close the gulf in other spaces -- such as second base with Starlin Castro. Instead, they have an enormous year-over-year disparity because they have little choice but to play Kieboom.
Ryan Zimmerman opting out, Castro breaking his wrist, and Howie Kendrick working through hamstring issues has squeezed the lineup to be filled with two rookies, a matchup veteran at designated hitter (Eric Thames) and a middle-of-the-pack catching combination. In essence, it’s Soto or bust 22 games into the 60-game season.
“I think we kind of need to bear down on some at-bats,” said Yan Gomes, who hit career home run 100 Friday.
So, should Martinez do something drastic? Like moving Soto to second and Eaton to the bottom? Perhaps. But, the main issue would remain. What was a group filled with viable matchups and everyday depth at the top is now slimmed to a below-average offense which is 24th out of 29 (St. Louis doesn’t count here) in runs scored. This is more a personnel problem than one influenced by the order.