When the Nationals broke camp in Florida and headed north to open the season, there was no player on the roster more locked-in at the plate than Mark DeRosa. The veteran utilityman tore the cover off the ball all spring, posting a .457 batting average and stunning .587 on-base percentage.
And then the regular season began and DeRosa appeared to lose all ability to hit a baseball. He enters tonight's game against the Astros with only two hits in 22 at-bats, each of them singles, leading to a pathetic .091 slugging percentage.
"Night and day," DeRosa muttered this afternoon inside the Nationals' clubhouse, admitting he's had trouble sleeping because of it. "That's why this game is so frustrating. If I had the answer for it, I'd just keep hitting like I was in the spring and I'd be smiling every day. But that's not the way this game is."
DeRosa thinks he knows what happened: With Michael Morse on the disabled list for at least five more weeks due to a lingering lat strain, the starting left field job was suddenly there for the taking for a guy trying to establish his place with a new team.
"I think you want to prove to everybody that you're capable and that you're the player everyone expects you to be," he said. "I would have never expected to have the spring I had. Maybe I took it a little bit for granted and thought I was locked in and would just carry it into the season. And that's not the way this game goes."
Davey Johnson concurs, believing DeRosa has put too much pressure on himself to produce.
"I think he probably feels like he's letting the club down," the manager said. "He's been a great influence, and I know he's going to hit. I'm not worried about it."
Johnson can say that because of DeRosa's track record as a career .271 hitter with a strong .341 on-base percentage. DeRosa has even more reason to stay confident, because he's experienced this kind of early season slump multiple times before, especially when he's playing for a new club.
In his first 10 games with the Cubs in 2007, DeRosa hit .242 with 12 strikeouts. He wound up hitting .293 that season. Upon debuting with the Indians in 2009, he went a familiar 2-for-22. And upon getting traded to the Cardinals later that summer, he went 0-for-17. His total numbers at season's end: a .250 average, 23 homers and 78 RBI.
"I've been through this before; it just stinks," DeRosa said. "New team, you try too hard maybe when the lights shine brightest. I've got to relax a little bit. I've got a golden opportunity here that I didn't expect coming into camp. Maybe I'm putting a little too much pressure on myself. I'm a confident guy. I trust the fact that I've done it before and come out of it. I don't see any reason why I can't do the same."