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Ryan Zimmerman is one of the only Nationals regulars producing at the plate.
Is there any reason the Nationals should be worried about their lack of offensive punch so far this spring?
No, insists Davey Johnson.
"As I've said before, we're way ahead of what I've seen the last couple of years in our approach, almost to a man," the manager said yesterday following a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in Jupiter. "That's all I care about: our approach and staying in the hitting area and being aggressive and things like that."
There's always a delicate balance in evaluating players during spring training, deciding what's more important: stats or approach. Clearly, Johnson is more interested in the latter.
Still, the stats aren't pretty, especially for several lineup regulars. Danny Espinosa is hitting .222 with zero extra-base hits and a wretched .504 OPS. Wilson Ramos is even worse with a .179 average and .464 OPS. Ian Desmond was batting around .200 with zero walks until an uptick in recent days.
The biggest problem, though, and the main reason Johnson isn't worried, is the fact the Nationals have yet to field their entire starting lineup this spring. That's both because of playing schedules and injuries to Michael Morse (lat strain), Adam LaRoche (sprained ankle) and Rick Ankiel (quadriceps strain).
The end result of all that has been a ton of playing time for guys expected to come off the bench or not even make the Opening Day roster. Thirteen players in camp have received 27 or more at-bats so far. Only four (Desmond, Espinosa, Ramos and Jesus Flores) are guaranteed to make the club.
Johnson expects to start giving his regulars more playing time next week as camp reaches its final leg. Ankiel has already returned from his injury, and LaRoche is expected back next week. (Morse, on the other hand, may not be ready to open the season.)
"We've got 13 more games," Johnson said. "I think most guys are pretty close. I think with one more week, everyone will be pretty much where I want them to be and I can back off of guys. But we've got a couple guys that aren't able to even come on the field. ... A lot of clubs are in worse shape than we are."
Indeed, plenty of other teams are dealing with their share of major injuries. In the Nationals' case, at least middle-of-the-order sluggers Ryan Zimmerman (1.430 OPS) and Jayson Werth (.958 OPS) are producing.
"I like where we're at," Johnson said. "I've said it before. And if I didn't like it, I'd tell you, too. I'm really happy with the progress I'm seeing from Espi and Desi and Zim, Werth. Almost everybody to a man."
At some point soon, though, you'd like to see others start producing actual results, putting themselves in position to hit the ground running come Opening Day. Johnson acknowledges as much.
"I don't want them peaking too early," he said yesterday.
Johnson then paused for a second and, with a smile, added this qualifier: "We're not."