Notes: Nats' bats heat up
Washington raises average with RISP over past 12 games
CINCINNATI -- The numbers were startling.
Washington batters were "hitting" .181 (50-for-276) with runners in scoring position going into the 10-game homestand that started on May 11, which was the same day hitting coach Mitchell Page was granted a leave of absence for personal reasons, and Minor League infield coordinator Lenny Harris took over as interim hitting coach.
In the 12 game since then, going into Wednesday's game at Cincinnati, the Nationals had teamed up to hit .326 (29-for-89) to raise their overall average with runners in scoring position to .216 (79-for-365). Manager Manny Acta wasn't ready to look at the improvement as cause and effect.
"Coincidence," Acta said. "We were due. Lenny brings a lot of energy and experience to the job, but you can't let that take away from the job that Mitchell did. We were struggling. We knew we had to start getting better."
Outfielder Ryan Church, who returned to the starting lineup Wednesday after not starting the first two games of the series against the Reds due to an arm injury, was leading the team with 12 hits with runners in scoring position. Right fielder Austin Kearns and first baseman Dmitri Young were tied for second with nine.
"Maybe we're just relaxing a little more," said Kearns, who had two hits in his last 29 at-bats to see his average drop from .285 to .237 going into Wednesday's game. "We're getting better at-bats and trying to go up there with a plan and focusing more when we go up there. We're trying to have an idea when we go up there. The biggest thing is [to] focus. One thing I hate to do is give away at-bats."
Kearns figured it was about time the Nationals' hitters, who remain last in the National League in overall batting and on-base percentage, started pulling their own weight.
"I think our pitching's been pretty good," he said. "It's been good all year. They've given us a chance to win. We probably should have more wins than we do."
Short memories: The Nationals logged six hits with runners in scoring position while coming from behind to beat the Reds, 8-4, Tuesday night. The game was crucial for Washington after the Nationals blew a 6-0 lead and lost, 8-7, in the series opener on Monday.
"It was very important," the manager said. "That game [on Monday] night was the type of game that can put you on a long losing streak. We were fortunate to be able to bounce back."
Mixed feelings: Rookie Matt Chico was -- and wasn't -- honored to give up a milestone home run to Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey hit the 573rd home run of his career Tuesday night, tying Harmon Killebrew for eighth place on MLB's all-time home run list. Chico became the 365th different pitcher to give up at least one home run to the 37-year-old Griffey.
"It's one of those things where you're glad he got it, but I didn't want him to get it off of me," said Chico, 23, who owned a 1-0 lead before the home run. "I grew up watching him. It was an honor to pitch to him."
Acta was almost as honored as Chico to compete against Griffey.
"He's just amazing," said Acta, who never reached the Majors in six professional seasons, during which he hit a total of six home runs. "He's a guy that, no contest, if he wouldn't have gotten hurt and lost all those games, he probably would be chasing 800 home runs now."
Experience counts: Young believes Harris can bring a different kind of viewpoint to his new job.
Harris retired after the 2005 season as the career pinch-hit leader, with 212 in 18 seasons, and Young figures Harris picked up many of them against some pretty tough pitchers.
"He was facing a lot of the top closers," Young pointed out. "I think that has to help a lot."
Young also believes Harris can bring a different form of motivation to bear on any Nationals hitter who proves reluctant to pay attention.
"It's only been two years since he played," Young said, smiling. "He could still play. He can threaten to take their job by coming back as a pinch-hitter."
This and that: Felipe Lopez's game-winning grand slam on Tuesday was Washington's third grand slam of the season. The Nationals hit two all of last season. ... Shortstop Cristian Guzman played in his 1,000th career game Wednesday. ... Relief pitcher Jesus Colome picked up his fourth win of the season on Tuesday, which is one more win than any Washington starter.
Coming up: Mike Bacsik starts for the Nationals on Thursday in the finale of the four-game series. The left-hander didn't get the decision after scattering five hits over six shutout innings in his first start in a big-league game since 2004 on Saturday against Baltimore. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.
Mark Schmetzer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.