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Kearns, Eckstein, and Adjustments

So I have -- in the past, by my fellow scribes - been accused of being the president of the Austin Kearns Apologists Club. It's a nice club over which to preside, because I'm the only one who wants to go to the meetings, and therefore I don't have to consult with anyone else about times or places.

So, predictably, I wrote about Kearns for today's paper. And, thankfully, he ripped a homer in last night's 8-6 win over the Astros (one ended by Brad Eldred in the 10th, a two-run homer).

But let's get back to an old Journal feature - DMTP ("Didn't Make The Paper"). An aspect that didn't make the erstwhile $.35 ... uh, $.75-edition (remember those days?) is the adjustments Kearns has made at the plate in recent weeks while working with new hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

Kearns has opened up his stance a bit, and the thought is it will help him get to those inside fastballs that have vexed him in the past. Chico (the writer, not the pitcher) wrote about Eckstein and Nick Johnson earlier in spring training. Kearns has more high praise for the new hitting coach.

"He can really break down some video," Kearns said. "He kind of sees things and explains things that maybe you wouldn't see or understand, but it translates."

They got tapes of Kearns from his first two years in the majors, and noticed the differences in Kearns's hand positions then and, say, last year.

"I had gotten out of the habit of different things, basically just balance and bat angles," Kearns said. "From those tapes, I was right here [he held his hands a bit lower than I remember them], and then just cocked the bat. It was real simple, and I just got away from it.

"You get in habits, and you don't really realize it. And you look at it, and you're like, jeez why am I not doing that?"

Kearns also believes that Eckstein has already helped Adam Dunn, and his early performance at the WBC might be an indication. Dunn had gotten away from being in a wide, spread-out stance that allowed him to use his powerful legs. Kearns remembers this Dunn from 2001.

Anyway, Manny Acta has always been a Kearns fan, and that hasn't changed, even after last year's miserable season.

"Nothing fazes him, bothers him," Acta said. "He's been through some tough times just over the last year. He never gets down on himself. He plays through a lot of pain. He's able to tolerate pain. ... He just stays positive. That's why he's one of those guys you want to root for him. That being said, he's ready to swing the bat and compete now."

The competition continues today, when we have the first round of cuts. Jordan Zimmermann on the hill, and I'm excited to see him for the first time. I'll get you a lineup in a bit.

By Barry Svrluga  |  March 10, 2009; 8:14 AM ET
 
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Next: Today's Lineups -- And Some Cuts

Comments

Careful with the Zimmermann talk, Barry, or you'll make Hill's sinker jealous.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 10, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Saw him pitch last year at Bowie late in the season. He is very good at getting his lower body behind the ball. Will make a great second starter behind Strasburg or third behind Olsen if they decide to go right-left-right-left next year.

Posted by: Juliasdad | March 10, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Also, methinks that there are a few of us on here who would attend Austin Kearns Apologists Club meetings.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 10, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

When's the next meeting?

--his mom

Posted by: NatsNut | March 10, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I like what you wrote but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is the stats that count.

Dukes proved himself last year to be the starter and Kearns can't play CF and Dunn has LF with Milledge in CF so where does that put Willingham, Kearns, WMP, Willie H., Bernadina, and Maxwell?

I can answer the last 2 names on that list myself, but how many outfielders does Manny keep and does Manny make Willie H. a backup 2nd baseman or OF?

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 10, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

"Cue" up for the job in right?

Quand on parle du loup (on en voit la queue)

Posted by: chime1211 | March 10, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

>"From those tapes, I was right here [he held his hands a bit lower than I remember them], and then just cocked the bat. It was real simple, and I just got away from it

I could see that from the get-go. He didn't have his hands in the hitting zone. All you have to do is sweep the bat through the zone instead of having them up high, or against your body, where the first move to get them in the hitting zone while the pitch is coming. You're dealing with two planes instead of one. If your hands are already in the hitting zone, you can concentrate on the ball instead succumbing to a bunch of movement. Like Guzman does, you see how low his hands are, and how little movement he has outside of his swing.

Posted by: Brue | March 10, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Barry. This and your article today is stuff I've been waiting a long time to read about.

I also would be interested to read what people are saying about Detwiler. When his inning against the Mets on Saturday was televised, I'd have to say that he looked mediocre at best, I was seriously disappointed. And not simply from a results standpoint; moreso there was just nothing impressive about him and his approach on the mound. He looked like he was just chucking the ball to the plate, not pitching. No presence or scariness factor. And his velocity was significantly lower than advertised--maybe he cracked 90 once or twice.

On Kearns, while I hope Austin turns things around, honestly I don't see how the team keeps Dukes out of the everyday lineup. I suppose we can say this is one of those potentially "good problems" and hope it will just solve itself, but seriously. Dukes has the potential to be scary good, for a long time. And where does this leave Willingham?

Also, is anyone asking what took Austin so long to realize this stuff about his hands? Even people on the Internet were pointing this out a year ago. Just how bad of a batting coach was Lenny Harris? Though I have to say, this is something Austin should have been able to identify and work on on his own, anyway.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 10, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

>Dukes proved himself last year to be the starter and Kearns can't play CF and Dunn has LF with Milledge in CF so where does that put Willingham, Kearns, WMP, Willie H., Bernadina, and Maxwell?

I still don't think that Milledge is the answer in CF. They'd get a lot more power with Dukes in CF, and Willingham or whomever in right. Dukes has at least as much speed as Milledge, and his throwing arm is far superior to his. Milledge just throws a wrench into everything imo. Tweener.

Posted by: Brue | March 10, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps that puts Dukes in CF and Lastings on the trade block? Since I can't wear my Lastings #44 jersey anymore, please move one of the OF or Nick so I know whose jersey to buy.

Respect, not love, for Kearns from me. I do not think he is untradeable. If there is a team looking to get out of a bad contract that needs OF depth, he can be moved.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 10, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Count me in for the Kearns' club, too. I'm rooting for him as well. His improvement leads to one question, though. Given Eckstein's talents as a batting coach, why didn't the Nats bring him to Washington last year?

Posted by: Natsgal | March 10, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Brue - am I channeling you today?

CiL - Willingham I think gets spot duty until Nick and Austin are traded or their contracts expire. He's still under team control for 2 more years. The skill of Manny will be tested in trying to get at bats for him so he does not have a lost year.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 10, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

New post.

(Also, they did bring Eckstein to Washington last year, but it was later in the season.)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 10, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Depth on the roster is a nice problem to have. Sure beats the hell out of what we had last year.

Personally, I believe it will shake out in time and the starters will be:

LF Dunn
CR Milledge
RF Dukes

Bench: Kearns, Willingham, Harris

I think Harris will be used mainly in the INF and occasionally in the OF.

Maxwell and Bernadina will be in AAA.

That leaves "The Weapon" and I think his days in Washington are numbered. A trade for a bucket of double bubble or some tins of skoal, great but, most likely an unconditional release is in his future.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 10, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Count me in the group of folks who are questioning Milledge's hold in CF. If Kearns has regained a major league batting stroke, I don't see why Dukes should be the odd man out. Dukes is a better fielder and a better hitter than Milledge. In fact, I'm not sure that Milledge does anything as well as Dukes -- at least not yet. Milledge may have potential, but Dukes is ahead of him in every way. If Kearns wins the RF job, the Nats would be a much better team with Dukes in CF than Milledge. Maybe a year at Columbus would allow Milledge the chance to refine his skills. I'd say he needs to play every day, and I'm not sure he should be doing that in DC.

Posted by: fischy | March 10, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Not that I am AKAC Certified like Barry, but Kearns will likely start. Makes the big money, is coming off an injury season and has been a gamer for this awful club . . . basically, in order to show any trade value he HAS to play. I hope he rips it up, my fingers are crossed.

Posted by: dfh123 | March 10, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Kearns: 4th outfielder, at best.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | March 10, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm really enjoying all of these positive Eckstein stories - it's really encouraging for this season's prospects. Last season's performance where EVERYONE on the roster, sans the guy who had lasik, hit for a lower percentage than the year before says a lot. I think to a man we will see, at a minimum, a 15 point rise in BA this year just because of coaching.

Posted by: MBUSA | March 10, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it just a shame that a Major League team spent an entire season without a Major League hitting coach...

Posted by: comish4lif | March 10, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

So Barry - how about you sit down with Cristian Guzman and talk about all the bashing you did of him while on the beat? Clear the air? You never wrote such an article about him like the one you wrote on Kearns. You were merciless to the guy and last year he was an all-star. No mea culpa huh?

Posted by: dand187 | March 10, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Personally, I believe it will shake out in time and the starters will be:

LF Dunn
CR Milledge
RF Dukes

Bench: Kearns, Willingham, Harris

I think Harris will be used mainly in the INF and occasionally in the OF.

Maxwell and Bernadina will be in AAA.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As a followup to GGG's post this is what I envisioned too except what are you doing with WMP?

I look for improvement from Milledge with the bat and glove however I don't see his arm strength improving.

Bernadina has looked very good this Spring until his 0'fer the other night. He needs to prove himself in AAA while playing every day.

Posted by: dmacman88 | March 10, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

>Willingham I think gets spot duty until Nick and Austin are traded or their contracts expire. He's still under team control for 2 more years.

Yeah that sounds as reasonable as anything. Then you have the dilemma that if Nick goes back to hitting .330, do you keep him and unload a couple of outfielders.

Posted by: Brue | March 10, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

"In fact, I'm not sure that Milledge does anything as well as Dukes"

except stay healthy. Which is why, with this bunch, we may not have enough outfielders. Let them compete -- the guys that play and hit the best get to play in more games and the guys that suck get to ride the bench, get traded, released, etc. I don't have an emotional attachment to any of them. Let their play sort it out.

Posted by: rb-freedom-for-all | March 10, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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