Harris helping young batters learn fast
Hitting coach understands what players are going through
WASHINGTON -- The No. 1 reason that the Nationals have a record under .500 this season is because of their offense. For most of the season, the team had a tough time moving runners over and scoring runs.
It wasn't until the team's recent seven-game winning streak that the Nationals started to be productive with the bats.
Hitting coach Lenny Harris has taken a lot of criticism from the media and fans for the team's problems in this area. It hasn't helped that a lot of key players, such as Nick Johnson and Elijah Dukes, have missed a lot of time because of injuries. Harris often had to deal with players who recently made their Major League debut or had little experience in the big leagues.
"He is dealing with a very young team. Lenny does a good job handling all these young guys and sharing his knowledge," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I would be lying if I said it was an easy job. You could have Ted Williams come here and it would be hard for us. There are so many players who are in that transitional stage, coming up from the Minor Leagues and not being an established big leaguer. It's hard. Unfortunately, the coaches take a lot of the hits. That's how it is in every sport."
Harris is one guy that puts all the blame on himself and declined to come up with excuses for the team's poor performance.
"I pretty much bit the bullet. I have to bite the bullet because I'm the hitting coach," Harris said. "I feel their pain as far as what they go through. That's life. I have to deal with it. I try to keep the pressure off my hitters, because I don't want them to put pressure on themselves as to why they are not producing. I kept working hard. I kept doing the things that I did when I first got here. I'm not going to change it."
Eyebrows were raised recently when Triple-A Columbus hitting coach Rick Eckstein was added to the Major League staff on Sept. 1. Eckstein is considered one of the best hitting coaches in the Minor Leagues and baseball people believe he can a good big league hitting coach some day.
Harris said he was not bothered by the move and understood why Eckstein joined the team.
"It didn't bother me, because I know he is a hitting coach," Harris said. "It is what it is. I'm having a great time. I'm enjoying myself. I like what I'm doing. He deserves to be here. God bless him."
Asked if he thought he would be back next year despite the team's offensive woes for most of the season, Harris said, "Yeah. Without a doubt. I would feel real bad if my guys, who were supposed to be out there all year, had bad years. Then I would look at it and say, 'I'm not coming back.'"
Whenever they do well with the bats, Dukes, Willie Harris, Ryan Langerhans and Lastings Milledge credit Lenny Harris. Willie Harris is having his best season, as far as putting up power numbers, while Dukes often talks about the good scouting reports that he receives from Lenny Harris.
Milledge is in his first full season and he leads the Nationals in home runs and is hitting .299 with six home runs and 20 RBIs since coming off the disabled list on July 23. Langerhans has been one of the team's best pinch-hitters
"He knows the game," Milledge said of Harris. "He is the all-time pinch-hits leader. There is no better guy that can be in a position. There is nothing another person can do that he can't. He has been there and done it. He is the perfect guy."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.