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Thursday, June 23, 2011
How Nationals have battled back to .500

By John McTigue

The Washington Nationals are 14-6 in June -- including 10-1 in their past 11 games -- with a chance to move above .500 on Thursday against the Seattle Mariners.

They’ve done this without big production from Jayson Werth and with limited help from Ryan Zimmerman, who's batting .229 since returning from the disabled list on June 14.

Washington’s group of rising stars and relative unknowns have been finding ways to win with pitching, hitting and defense.

The Nationals have a team ERA of 2.71 in June, third-best in the majors this month behind the Minnesota Twins (2.08) and the Philadelphia Phillies (2.28). Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan are leading the charge after making some changes.

Zimmermann has steadily seen his ERA drop this season: 4.55 in April; 3.23 in May; and 1.32 in June. Early in the season, Zimmermann kept too many pitches in the strike zone and wasn’t generating swings and misses. As the season has progressed, Zimmermann has kept his pitches -- specifically his fastball and curve -- out of the zone more and has generated more misses.

Lannan is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five starts this month. (He was 2-5 with a 4.40 ERA in the first two months of the season.) Lannan is throwing his changeup more in June and locating it better.

In April and May, 36.5 percent of Lannan’s changeups were thrown over the middle of the plate. In June, only 17.6 percent have been over the middle. Opponents are batting just .190 against the change in June, compared to .333 in April and May.

Offensively, the Nationals have hit 20 home runs in June, tied for fourth-most in the National League. Leading the way has been Michael Morse, who has hit six homers and 19 RBIs and has a 1.002 OPS.

His tear started in May and has carried over to June. Morse’s struggles early on were against fastballs, hitting .211 with one HR in 38 at-bats ending on fastballs in April. Since May 1, Morse is hitting .356 with a home run once every nine at-bats.

Defensively, Washington has committed 13 errors in the past 30 days with a .988 fielding percentage, both the fourth-best rates in the league.

Behind the plate, Wilson Ramos quietly has become one of the most dangerous catchers to run against. Excluding pitcher pickoffs, Ramos has thrown out 40.0 percent of runners in June and has the second-highest rate this season.