The Washington Nationals are looking for some power to back up Juan Soto’s exceptional hitting skills.
Heading into Monday night’s 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves, Soto was the one known quantity in the Nats’ offense, spraying the ball all over the field with power, no matter whether he hits second, third or cleanup.
Last postseason, his power and Anthony Rendon’s were deadly.
But now that Rendon is gone, who else in the Nats’ offense really scares anyone? Will any of the players the Nats have thrust into everyday roles emerge as another threat after Soto? A few contenders emerged Monday night. Luis García, Eric Thames and Asdrubal Cabrera all hit home runs to power the Nats’ offense.
García, 20, became the first player born in the 2000s to hit a home run when he took Braves’ starter Touki Toussaint deep to right-center field on the first pitch of the second inning. At the plate, he looks like Juan Soto has been coaching him, widening his stance and choking up on the bat with two strikes. Garcia is known as a contact hitter, so a powerful bat from him would be a welcome, albeit surprising, development. In 306 games at the single-A and Double-A levels, he’s hit 12 homers, 13 triples and 51 doubles.
“He’s going to get it, he’s going to learn, he loves being here, we love having him here,” Manager Davey Martinez said after Monday’s game. “You watch him he’s pretty smart. All you got to do is tell him once where to play and he’s got it. I mean, you don’t have to move him around, he’s going to get it, he’s going to learn, he loves being here, we love having him here. He’s got a lot of energy, he’s always cheering for his teammates, so he’s a lot of fun to be around.”
García’s teammates and Martinez have noted how the prospect has gotten bigger, adding muscle to his frame since he was signed as a teenager from the Dominican Republic. Maybe now, at 6-2 and 211 pounds, he’s muscled up enough to make some of that double power into homer power. The rookie just missed a game-breaking hit in the third inning, when his bases-loaded shot went straight to a diving Austin Riley, who dive-tagged third for a no-chance double play on Soto.
“He hit a line drive to third base” Martinez said. “That tells me a lot about him. He’s going to have a lot of success in this league.”
Asdrubal Cabrera, on the other hand, is the most likely National to have his bat catch fire. That’s because it is already hot, especially when hitting from the right side of the plate. After Monday’s game, Cabrera is 10-for-20 with three home runs and 7 RBIs, as a right-hander, which translates into a nearly incomprehensible slash line and OPS. Cabrera, of course, helped key the Nats’ postseason run last season by hitting .323/.404/.565, with six homers and 40 RBI after the Nats traded for him from Texas.
Another likely candidate to emerge is Eric Thames, who hit his first home run of a so-far frustrating 2020 season. With just eight hits and 14 strikeouts, the muscular left-handed hitter is still trying to figure it out at the plate this season. But Nats fans know that when Thames is on, he can be dangerous. After his 25-homer, 61-RBI regular season last year, he homered off Max Scherzer in the NL Wild Card game to give the Milwaukee Brewers a 3-0 lead.
Carter Kieboom also showed the potential to be a key hitter in the Nationals’ offense, with a hard hit that banged off the right field wall. But he also struck out twice, indicating that he’s still looking to get comfortable with major league pitching.
Before Daniel Hudson blew the save Monday night, the Nats actually had several chances to break the game open. But Riley’s slick double play on García’s ball killed one threat. An inning later, Soto, himself, was about two feet shy of a grand slam on a foul ball before he flew out to Ender Enciarte at the wall.
“Those balls go somewhere else we’ve had a big night,” Martinez said after the game.
After losing a game where they went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, the Nats could use another bat to pair with Soto’s, and there’s no shortage of candidates. But this is also a season where the Nats can hit four home runs and still lose. Someone in the lineup behind Soto will have to develop some consistency and a clutch bat for the Nats to become consistent winners.