Washington Nationals: Wieters must bust out of slump

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 22: Matt Wieters
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 22: Matt Wieters /

A towering home run for Matt Wieters hopefully gets the catcher out of a funk. Something the Washington Nationals need for October.

The Washington Nationals got a big boost from the slumping Matt Wieters in their 4-3 win over the Houston Astros Tuesday night.

His two-run blast to right-center field in the fourth was Wieters first hit in his last five games. You need to go back to the nightcap of the doubleheader versus San Francisco to see anything but a bagel in the hit column. An 0-for-16 run with five strikeouts and three walks.

This is not the season Wieters imagined when he joined the Nats back in February. Unsigned the entire offseason, his agent Scott Boras struck a last-minute deal with Washington for a pillow contract. A healthy $10.5 million for 2017 and an opt-out clause guaranteed to be triggered for 2018.

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No team will pay Wieters that much for a catcher slashing .232/.290/.365. Chances are he will be the Opening Day catcher for Washington next season.

In the meantime, there is unfinished business.

Since the All-Star break, his slash line of .198/.276/.326 is bad. When he makes contact, the average climbs to .227 over his last 27 games.

Wieters has thrown out 29 percent of potential base stealers, two percent above the National League average. His pitchers like the way he calls games. On MASN’s cameras Tuesday, he discussed location of pitches with Tanner Roark in the dugout. The on-field coach, he fills the role between innings too.

If the Nats are to make an October run, Wieters must improve on offense.

As we approach the playoffs, Wieters is the only decent option at catcher. That is if he does not catch the injury bug plaguing the team.

Anchored at the bottom of the lineup, it is important he is not a black hole at the plate batting before the pitcher. If Wieters can reclaim his early season form, other teams will be tempted to give him a free pass before facing a pitcher rather than take a free out.

At home, he hits .261 and .294 when making contact. Wieters has nine less strikeouts and slashes more singles. He is comfortable at the friendly confines of Nationals Park. With playoff experience under his belt, the extra butterflies are settled. In 2012, he was on the Baltimore Orioles team making the American League Championship Series.

The key is to relax. With rosters expanding next week, the Nats will carry Pedro Severino as the third catcher. Wieters will get the rest he needs before getting into the playoff pressure cooker.

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Although he need not hit .300 at the end, any extra he gives to other pitchers to think about helps Washington. In a short series, sometimes that is the difference.