Prior to 2016, the notion of having a down season was completely foreign to Ben Revere. All he had been as a big leaguer was the prototypical leadoff man; a sparkplug for the offenses for his previous three teams who hadn’t finished with a batting average lower than .305 since 2013.
But ever since his first regular season swing as a member of the Nationals — one that resulted in an Opening Day oblique injury and a month-long disabled list stint — it seems the 28-year-old centerfielder has spent much of his inaugural campaign in D.C. simply trying to reclaim his old self.
“All [my teammates] say its tough to get your good rhythm in the middle of a season, but I'm out there battling my tail off,” Revere said after an 0-for-5 in Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. “[I’m] definitely coming off a serious injury that could jeopardize your swing a little bit.”
In the two and a half months since Revere’s return from the DL, he hasn’t set the table atop the order like the Nats need him to, slashing .214/.259/.298 with 19 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 60 games. His strikeouts are down, which is the norm for him, but he’s been unusually ineffective when he does make contact. His batting average of balls in play (BABIP) is .230 — the lowest for any Nats hitter with at least 130 at-bats. A big reason for that is because pitchers have negated his speed by inducing him to hit the ball in the air more often. According to Fangraphs.com, his fly ball percentage is up to 27.1, by far a career-high.
“That’s not his game. They want him up in the air,” manager Dusty Baker said. “They don’t want him on the ground. They don’t want him to the opposite field. They want him in the air.”
“I'm seeing the ball good, just results ain't happening,” Revere said. “Missing some pitches, fouling them off usually, I'll hit the other way, hit it up the middle and bean balls into the ground, usually I get out but at least I hit them hard.”
What’s even tougher for Revere is that the team no longer appears willing to wait out his struggles. Not only has Baker replaced him with Michael Taylor on days when the Nats face off against a lefty starter, but top infield prospect Trea Turner has been learning to play center as a way to get his bat into the lineup instead. And with the non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, there’s talk that Washington could be in the mix to add another outfielder.
All those factors have added up to a season of frustration for a player who’s rarely faced this kind of adversity.
“[This is my] first time I've gone through this struggle in my professional career,” he said, “I'll be on my knees, keep praying [it gets better]. Hopefully one of these games will get me going and help this team get some more W's.”
The January trade to acquire Revere from the Toronto Blue Jays for struggling reliever Drew Storen was widely viewed as a steal for GM Mike Rizzo. The move doesn't look as good six months later, but there's still enough time left in the season for a rebound.
“Dusty's going to give me plenty of at-bats and I'm going to do everything I can to bust my tail, no matter what," Revere said. "This team, they have my back.”
Coming through in two-out situations isn’t supposed to be an easy task, but the Nationals are making it look especially difficult of late.
The most recent example of those struggles came in Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the Padres, in which the Nats’ lineup couldn’t get the big knock against 23-year-old right hander Luis Perdomo, a rookie starter who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA.
“That’s been our nemesis,” manager Dusty Baker said. “People ask me, you know, what do we need? We need some timely, two-out base hits. Not home runs.”
Indeed, when the Nats have big nights offensively, it’s usually because they powered their way to get there. They entered Friday tied for first in the National League with 132 homers through 96 games. And even against the Padres, two of Washington's three runs on the night came via solo shots from Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy.
So the issue hasn’t been overall scoring, per se. The issue has been scoring in clutch situations without having to rely on the long ball. Against the Perdomo and the Padres, the Nats went 1-for-5 with two outs and runners in scoring position, including an 0-for-4 stretch after the first inning. That won’t help their season average in that category (.221), which ranked 21st in the majors prior to the game.
So it’s no mystery to Baker about what has to be fixed.
“At this stage of the game, almost two-thirds of the season gone, we gotta make some changes,” the skipper said of the Nats’ two-out approach. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and it’s getting frustrating on the guys and frustrating on fans and frustrating to us, too.”
When asked about the Nats' recent woes, Bryce Harper chalked it up to the typical up-and-down nature of the long season.
"I don't think we need to change much at all,” said Harper, who’s 6-for-20 in those situations on the year. "I think we're a great team. I think we're swinging the bats well.
“Sometimes you line out and get out. Sometimes you hit right into shifts. Sometimes you strikeout, sometimes you walk. It's part of the game.”
Perhaps it is just part of the game. But it is also hard to ignore that the Nats have gone 6-for-41 with runners in scoring position over their last five games, four of them losses.
But Baker, ever the optimist, believes it won't take long before his team turns it around.
“I just urge everybody, don’t panic," he said. "Just let us play and we’ll come out of this.”
Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss the San Diego Padres on Friday night at Nationals Park:
How it happened: Perhaps it’s too early to call it a trend, but it sure seems like Nats have had a tough time with west coast teams this season. And after Friday’s loss to the Padres, Washington fell to 3-8 against the NL West.
They can thank Matt Kemp for that.
The Padres’ veteran right fielder got the best of Tanner Roark on this night, tagging him for two home runs — a solo shot in the first inning and a three-run tater in the fifth — which accounted for four of the five runs the Nats’ starter yielded.
On the flip side, Washington couldn’t solve San Diego rookie Luis Perdomo, who shut down the home team over seven frames after allowing two quick runs in the first.
The Nats threatened after Perdomo exited, with Daniel Murphy hitting his 19th home run of the season to cut the deficit to 5-3 in the eighth. But they couldn't complete the rally, clinching their fourth loss in the last five games.
What it means: The Nats fall to 57-40, and pending the result of the Mets-Marlins game, could fall to see their division lead shrink to 3 1/2 games.
Offense struggles versus Padres’ rookie: To this point in the season, there hasn’t been much about Padres 23-year-old rookie Luis Perdomo that screams “ace”. But after the first inning, the Nats made him look like one as they couldn’t muster much against a guy who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA. As a whole, the offense mustered three runs, with two of them coming on home runs. The Nats might be one of the best power-hitting teams in the game, but these are the type of games they need to win when the ball isn't leaving the yard.
Kemp solves Roark: It’s surprising when the Nats’ 29-year-old right hander isn’t anything but steady, but it appeared the Padres had his number on this night — well, at least Kemp did. Were it not for the two big swings on the night, Roark probably would have pitched deeper into the game. Instead, he could only get through five innings, marking his shortest outing since June 16.
Felipe Rivero: After a rough early part of June, Rivero has quietly rebounded. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, striking out 15 over 17 1/3 innings. With so much talk about how the Nats may want to upgrade their bullpen at the trade deadline, it’s easy to forget that the group they have isn’t half bad.
Up next: Washington will look to bounce back Saturday night as it sends Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.94 ERA) to the hill to oppose ex-Nat Edwin Jackson (1-1, 4.76 ERA).