WASHINGTON -- Since the Nationals dismissed hitting coach Rick Eckstein and replaced him with roving hitting instructor Rick Schu, their offense has drastically improved. Whether the two changes are related, however, is unclear.
Schu joined the Nationals three games after the All-Star break. Prior to Wednesday's game, the Nats had increased their runs per game (to 4.70 from 3.76), batting average (to .274 from .241), home runs per game (to 1.23 from 0.91) and walks per game (to 3.07 from 2.79) in the second half of the season. However, they have also had a healthier lineup.
"I've said Rick Schu's a good hitting coach. Rick Eckstein's an outstanding hitting coach," manager Davey Johnson said. "They have basically the same philosophy: hit off the fastball. And the talent that we had here is the same talent, and they're getting the same message. They just didn't do it. ... It's always water seeks its level, and we were way down. We needed to come up."
Several players have praised Schu's influence, either in their own performance or the team's performance as a whole. Schu introduced a concept called "fluidity" to Denard Span, who entered Wednesday's game with a career-best 28-game hitting streak.
Chad Tracy credited Schu with much of the team's turnaround.
"I think when he came in, he just changed the whole atmosphere around here," Tracy said. "He brought in this personality that makes everybody relax. He's always laughing, smiling, joking around, putting on your genre of music when you come down there to hit, getting you in your flow. That kind of stuff goes a long way."
Tracy said that Schu has also brought a situational approach to the batting cage.
"The first couple of rounds, it's hit and run, infield back, infield in, get him over," Tracy said. "You have to do some things that you have to do in the game sometimes, and I think that helps some, too."
Span's hit streak at 29, one from Nats' mark
WASHINGTON -- Outfielder Denard Span extended his hitting streak to 29 consecutive games during the Nationals' 5-2 loss to the Braves on Wednesday night.
Span's streak is a game short of the Nats' record set by Ryan Zimmerman in 2009. It's also the longest hitting streak in the Majors this season. In the seventh inning, during his last at-bat of the game, Span singled to right field off reliever Luis Ayala. However, Span was erased on a fielder's choice by Zimmerman.
"I was definitely pumped to extend it. The first three at-bats were against a tough pitcher -- [Alex] Wood. He is tough to pick up from a lefty," Span said. "Once Ayala came in there, I was able to see the ball a little bit better. I just buckled down. I wanted to get it and I did."
During the streak, Span is hitting .374 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and nine RBIs.
On Thursday against the Marlins, Span has a chance to become the first player since Dan Uggla and Andre Ethier in 2011 to reach a 30-game hitting streak.
Strasburg's start postponed until Saturday
WASHINGTON -- After Wednesday night's 5-2 loss to the Braves, Nationals manager Davey Johnson announced that Stephen Strasburg would have his scheduled start Thursday against the Marlins pushed back. Gio Gonzalez will start Thursday and Strasburg will return on Saturday, barring any further setbacks.
Strasburg was unexpectedly scratched from his previous start last Friday with right forearm tightness, which might have occurred when the right-hander was experimenting with a new pitch the previous day in New York. The right-hander rested for two days, threw a "great" bullpen session on Monday and said Tuesday that he was prepared to start Thursday's series opener as planned.
However, Strasburg had trouble getting loose Wednesday afternoon and still felt some tightness.
"He felt a little something there [in the forearm], but he wanted to pitch," Johnson said. "I said, 'Well, no way. I got guys on full rest. I'll pitch them and you can be in the lineup for Saturday.' So it's my decision."
Strasburg described the feeling as a "strong cramp" that bothered him when he was warming up Wednesday afternoon. He felt the tightness and took a break, moving his hand and squeezing it a bit. Then the feeling dissipated and he returned to the field and felt fine.
"I don't really know why it's happening," Strasburg said. "When it happens, it happens. It's like a strong cramp, so I just think I would put us in a bind if I went out there and felt it. We'd definitely be down some pitchers."
Johnson said last week that Strasburg's injury is not related to the surgically-repaired ligament in the right-hander's elbow. Strasburg was examined by team doctor Wiemi Douoguih, who assured him that the arm is structurally sound.
"I wouldn't say I'm too concerned, because when I get nice and loose, it feels 100 percent. The tough thing is getting loose," Strasburg said. "I think it's just part of it being September and that's pretty much it."
Johnson said that Strasburg wanted to pitch Thursday, but the manager ultimately decided to hold him back as a precaution.
"It's just not worth the risks," Johnson said. "He wanted to go tomorrow. I said no."
Davey hints Detwiler likely done for regular season
WASHINGTON -- After throwing three simulated innings on Wednesday, Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler will fly to Viera, Fla., and pitch in an instructional league game Monday, according to Davey Johnson. The manager hinted that the lefty might not rejoin the Nats this season.
"If that's the plan, he might as well stay down there," Johnson said. "I don't see it. He'd need to have four days off and then there's only one game or two games left. I don't see the point in coming out and having him for one game, probably. But that's going to be a decision made down the road."
Detwiler has been on the 60-day disabled list since early July with a herniated disc in his back, and he has struggled with back issues all season. The left-hander is making progress, however, throwing fastballs, changeups and curveballs during Wednesday's bullpen session. Johnson said that there just might not be enough games left on the regular-season schedule.
The Nationals' skipper also suggested that Detwiler's back has been bothering him since the World Baseball Classic. Although he is in his last season as manager of the team, Johnson still wants to make sure that Detwiler doesn't rush back and that he completely overcomes the injury before next season.
"The injury is such that there's no easy medical cure," Johnson said, "so you're just concerned because there is a little problem in there, if that's going to get exacerbated and come back. That's the whole issue."
• Several Nationals players again wore Navy hats during batting practice Wednesday. Adm. James A Winnefeld, Jr., vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, distributed the hats Tuesday morning in light of Monday's shooting at the nearby Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters.
"Everybody cherished the hats," Johnson said. "I just think it was a show of solidarity that we wear them through the anthem, in respect toward the military, tragedy and the service. All the above. As far as wearing them out there [in a game], a lot of them didn't fit, so I don't know how comfortable guys would be with hats that don't fit and fly off, although our hats seem to fly off a lot anyway."
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.