WASHINGTON - Eric Thames, 33, was frustrated.
He had just reached base on an infield error by the Phillies on Tuesday night, but the Nationals’ newcomer hollered in dismay once he got to first in the fifth inning here at Nationals Park.
The frustration grew later in the game as he scorched a line drive in the eighth inning to deep center – only to have it caught by speedy Roman Quinn.
In his first 65 at-bats with his new team, Thames is hitting .215 with just one homer and six RBIs. This after he swatted 25 homers with an average of .247 last season for Milwaukee. The last extra-base homer for the California native was August 17 – at Atlanta. He has just one extra-base hit since then.
“For me, I want to see him drive the ball a little bit more like he is accustomed to doing,” manager Dave Martinez told Federal Baseball before Wednesday’s game with the Phillies. “I think right now he is caught in-between; we have seen an unbelievable amount of breaking balls. I think he is getting pitches to hit and fouling them off. We want him to be ready to hit the fastballs and not miss them … and not chasing breaking balls.”
“He has been playing good defense” at first, Martinez added. “Hopefully he gets going and the power numbers creep up and he can help us in that manner.”
Thames, a lefty swinger, broke into the majors in 2011 with Toronto and he has 94 homers in his career with an average of .243 with an OPS of .798. He hit a career-high 31 homers in 2017 with the Brewers.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, of course, opted out of this season. And right now the Nationals could use a power bat on the corners, as third baseman Carter Kieboom doesn’t have an extra-base hit in his first 50 trips, and he was optioned to the Nationals’ Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg this afternoon.
Thames signed with the Nationals after hitting 72 homers in the previous three seasons with the Brewers.
Not only has he changed teams, but Thames also has to deal with staying safe in this pandemic season.
“Staying healthy, whether it’s like an actual injury or getting sick, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Thames told reporters when he spoke on a Zoom call last month. “So I’m doing the most I can like staying away from people, staying inside as much as I can, but you know, then again, we are touching door handles and there are certain things out of our control. So, yeah, it is definitely different right now at first base, but Howie (Kendrick) and the other guys can fill in at first.”
Kendrick, who can’t play every day due to various nicks and bumps, is batting .288 with a homer and nine RBIs.
Another option at first is veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera (.269, five homers), who fouled a ball off his foot recently and is dealing with that.
“He has been playing an awful lot,” Martinez said Wednesday of Cabrera. “He’s been really good.”
Thames spoke to Sirius XM radio in April before Zimmerman decided to opt-out of the season.
“From the sense I got the short time in camp that we had, it’s more of a platoon role,” Thames said, “me and (Zimmerman) and Howie, but I say it every year, and I’ve seen it every year, it doesn’t matter what the idea is going in, injuries can happen to people, some players can be super-hot, and that affects playing time, so for me, I’ve got to hammer down on the lefties, I’ve got to get better off that, and then who knows what can happen. A hot streak and help the team win and I can be in there every day, or I could be on the bench, but hopefully — I don’t want to be on the bench, so I’ve got to prepare to the best ability and go out there ready to win every night.”
The Nationals have not been doing that – and more punch from their corner infielders would help.