Nationals hitting coach breaks GM-imposed silence

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Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo gave hitting coach Rick Eckstein orders to avoid talking to reporters for the past several weeks, apparently fearing that Eckstein would be too hard on himself about the team’s offensive struggles.

Eckstein finally chatted with the media yesterday and sure enough he was very tough on himself:

I’m going to blame myself. That’s the way I’ve always been. I don’t point fingers at anybody else. Where we were in a lot of categories were below where we want them to be. We want to go out and be able execute under any circumstances, and when that doesn’t happen, the first person I look at is myself.

As the hitting coach, I take every at-bat home. It’s something that, I think it through. I try to pick apart where I make mistakes. I try to make sure that every plan for each player is the right plan. I beat myself up about it. So, yeah, I do take it personally. When the success does start to show, I’m very happy for the player, because I know how hard they worked for it. But I continue to pick myself apart.

Fair enough, but on the list of Nationals being criticized for the team’s continued poor play Eckstein probably doesn’t even show up. At least not right now. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche have been hurt, Jayson Werth has been mediocre, and young pupils Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa have done well enough to cancel out Ian Desmond going backward in his development. And other than that he just doesn’t have much to work with.

In other words, Eckstein might not be doing a particularly good job, but there’s enough wrong with the Nationals that no one should be pointing fingers at him. Heck, Rizzo still thinks the lineup’s problem is lack of success with runners in scoring position even though they’ve been no better or worse in those spots than they are overall (which is to say terrible).

Mike Leake loses perfect game bid on leadoff single in the ninth

Mike Leake
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Just one week after Taylor Cole and Felix Peña tossed a combined no-hitter against Seattle, Mariners right-hander Mike Leake worked on his own perfect game through eight innings against the Angels.

It was an ambitious form of revenge, and one that Leake served up perfectly as he held the Angels scoreless in frame after frame. He sprinkled a handful of strikeouts throughout the first eight innings, catching Matt Thaiss on a called strike three in the third and getting two whiffs — called strikeouts against both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani — in the fourth.

The Mariners, meanwhile, put up a good fight against the Angels, backing Leake’s attempt with 10 runs — their first double-digit total since a 13-3 rout of the Orioles on June 23. Daniel Vogelbach led things off in the fourth with a three-run homer off of reliever Jaime Barria, then repeated the feat with another three-run shot off Barria in the fifth. Tom Murphy and J.P. Crawford helped pad the lead as well with a two-RBI single and two-RBI double, respectively.

In the ninth, with just three outs remaining, the Angels finally managed to break through. Luis Rengifo worked a 1-1 count against Leake, then returned an 85.3-m.p.h. changeup to right field for a base hit, dismantling the perfecto and the no-hitter in one fell swoop. Leake lost control of the ball following the hit, issuing four straight balls to Kevan Smith in the next at-bat and giving the Angels their first runner in scoring position. Still at a pitch count of just 90, however, he induced the next two outs in quick fashion and polished off the win with a triumphant eight-pitch strikeout against Mike Trout for the first one-hitter (and Maddux) of his career.

Had Leake successfully closed out the perfecto, it would’ve been the first of his decade-long career in the majors and the first the Mariners had seen since Félix Hernández’s perfect game against the Rays in August 2012. For their part, the Angels have yet to be on the losing end of a perfecto. The last time they were shut out in a no-hitter was 1999, at the hands of then-Twins pitcher Eric Milton.