Monday, April 25, 2011, 6:39 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
PITTSBURGH -- Matt Stairs has been in this game too long and hit his way out of too many slumps to start mincing words now at age 43. And the Nationals' struggling pinch-hitter isn't making any excuses for his 0-for-11 start to the season.
"I can honestly say my 11 at-bats I've had so far -- besides my four walks -- have been just embarrassing," he said before Monday night's game against the Pirates. "I'll be the first one to admit it.
"The thing that bothers me is, it's 0-for-11, but it's not even good at-bats. It pisses me off. I can honestly say when I step into the batter's box, I have no chance of getting a hit."
Over the course of 19 big-league seasons, Stairs has endured through his share of slumps, including an 0-for-30 slide that stretched out over nearly two months in 2009 with the Phillies. So he's not about to start panicking, though he did lose a bit of sleep Sunday night.
After taking a called third strike in the ninth inning of the Nationals' 6-3 win at PNC Park, a frustrated Stairs stayed up late in his hotel room, taking (in his estimation) 300 to 400 dry swings in front of a mirror to try to bring some balance back to his swing.
"For some reason, I've gotten away from being wide open with my feet and being short to the ball," he said. "For the last week or so, I've been upright, and my timing's been off. I'm getting pitches I should hit that I'm not even pulling the trigger on. And that's not me."
Stairs has built his entire reputation on his ability to come off the bench cold and produce a professional at-bat in key situations. That he's been unable to do that so far for the Nationals irks him to no end.
Manager Jim Riggleman wasn't nearly as hard on Stairs as the player was and stressed he'll continue to give the veteran as many opportunities as possible to snap out of this funk.
"Certainly we'd like to get him going," Riggleman said. "No matter how long you've been playing the game, you like to get that first hit or two off the board. He just hasn't had a chance to do that yet. ... We know he's going to get some."
Stairs knows he's going to have to produce at some point soon before Riggleman starts turning to other options off his bench (such as Laynce Nix, who entered Monday's game with nine hits in 30 at-bats). But as long as he keeps getting chances, he's willing to gut this out.
"As long as they've got the patience, I know I do," he said. "Hopefully tonight will be the night I break out of it."
Mark Zuckerman also blogs about the Nationals at natsinsider.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MarkZuckerman.