Zuckerman: Banged-up Willingham Battles Slump

Zuckerman: Banged-up Willingham Battles Slump
August 11, 2010, 11:20 pm
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010 7:18pm

By Mark Zuckerman

There was a point earlier this summer when Josh Willingham had a legitimate case for All-Star consideration. At worst, the Washington Nationals outfielder was positioning himself to post the best offensive numbers of his career.

Those days, though, have long since passed. Right now, Willingham isn't thinking about setting any career highs. He's merely trying to snap out of a prolonged slump.

When the Nationals departed for the All-Star break nearly one month ago, Willingham was batting .281 with 15 homers, 46 RBI and a .411 on-base percentage. In 23 games since, he's hitting only .192 with a .281 on-base percentage and only eight RBI. He hasn't homered since July 2.

That funk, combined with a lingering knee injury that Jim Riggleman said has been nagging Willingham most of the season, convinced the manager to give his left fielder a day off Wednesday.

"Just an aggravation that he's played through," Riggleman said. "I'm sure he'll play through it through the rest of the year. It's really hard not to respect him and be proud of him. He's played through it without complaint."

Riggleman has mentioned in the past a desire to give Willingham more regular time off, believing the 31-year-old is best-suited as a 450-at-bat-per-year player than a 600-at-bat-per-year player.

But with Willingham producing at robust levels throughout the season's first half -- he led the National League at one point in on-base percentage and walks -- and with few alternatives to serve as lineup protection for cleanup man Adam Dunn, Riggleman was reluctant to sit him.

The manager has also believed all along Willingham is capable of snapping out his funk at any given moment.

"Guys like Josh who have power, you never know what the day is going to be when they come out of their little slump," Riggleman said. "When they come out, they usually come out with a long ball or two. We don't want to have him out of their real long. We'll have him right back in there tomorrow."

In the grand scheme, Willingham (a model of consistency) is simply putting together another solid season that looks much like those that came before it. Over the last four years, he's averaged 22 homers, 69 RBI and a .265 batting average.

What's he currently on pace for in 2010? How about 21 homers, 76 RBI and a .262 batting average.

Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at zuckerman12@gmail.com.