Before Trea Turner and Juan Soto were shut down in the second and third games with the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park this week, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters he was pondering ways to try to maximize his lineup to try to take advantage of the production he was getting from his No. 1 & 2 hitters.
“As you know,” the third-year manager explained, “I don’t sleep at night and I run about 15 different batting orders, just don’t have very many options right now.”
Martinez said he needed someone who could get on base in front of Turner and Soto, but couldn’t think of anyone who fit the profile of what he was looking for now.
“The biggest thing is if we had a guy that was walking and hitting a little bit you could stick him in there and move those guys maybe to 2-3,” he said.
“I thought about doing that, or even backing them — if we had a couple guys, 3-4, see if we could get those guys on base for them.
“Right now those guys are doing well hitting 1-2, we need some guys in the bottom of the order just to get on base for them and see what happens.”
The advantage of just leaving them 1-2? More at bats for both at the top of the order.
“My big thing with those two guys right now is they’re swinging so well is to keep them up there and get them up there as much as we possibly can,” Martinez said. “They’re swinging well, they’re carrying our offense right now. So, these other guys, [Adam] Eaton is starting to swing the bat, he’s starting to get hits. I feel bad for [Asdrúbal] Cabrera, because I watched his at bats last night and he’s squaring some balls up as he has been these last few games and got nothing for it. But I hope that he doesn’t change anything and he keeps hitting the ball hard. Luis [García] is hitting the ball hard. So we start getting some of these balls to drop things will start happening.
“We’re scoring five or six runs a game, if we can continue to do that and our pitching turns around, then we’ll start winning some ballgames.”
Eaton, 31, had history at the top of an order, with 578 games and 2,648 plate appearances on his resume as a No. 1 hitter in his career, including 41 games in 2019, in which he had a .271/.339/.376 line, with a .286/.363/.412 line overall as a “leadoff” hitter in his nine-years in the majors, and a .285/.360/.429 line when he’s led off an inning in his career, but the right fielder has struggled at the start this season, with a .224/.281/.376 line before the finale with the Phillies on Thursday afternoon.
A 19.1% K% on the season (26 Ks in 126 PAs), that was well over his 16.8% career K%, didn’t help either.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Martinez said when asked about Eaton’s patience at the plate this season, and what led the manager to move him out of the No. 2 spot recently to try to shake it up a bit.
“He was swinging so much out of the strike zone. We’re trying to get him back in the strike zone now. Moving him down to 5th and 6th.
“One, he was doing so good with runners in scoring position, we thought maybe if some of these guys get on in front of him he can drive them in. Two, is to maybe take a little bit of pressure off him and let him see some pitches or just let him just go ahead and hit and swing. But he’s been hitting the ball a lot better. So if he starts taking his pitches and accepting his walks, we can get him up to the top of the lineup and see what happens.”
Martinez, after back-to-back shutout losses to the Phillies on Tuesday and Wednesday, put Eaton at the literal top of the lineup for the series finale yesterday.
“I talked to him last night,” Martinez said in his pregame Zoom call on Thursday afternoon.
“I just wanted to see if we can get somebody up there to get something going here, get some runs.
“Trea and Juan have been carrying us for a while. and just try to mix it up a little bit. [Eaton] has done it before.
“Just tell him to be that little pesky hitter and try to get on base for the rest of our lineup.”
Eaton’s 0 for 7 showing in the back-to-back shutouts left him 4 for 25 in six games on this road trip for the Nationals, and in what’s been a frustrating season, Martinez said his right fielder has taken his struggles hard.
“Very [hard],” he qualified. “I spent an hour with him last night after the game just chatting about different stuff, and we watched some video stuff.
“He seems like he’s in a good place. But he takes every at bat to heart and he wants to do well for his teammates, that’s just who he is. I told him to relax and have fun.
“I talked to him before I moved him back up to the top of the order, and he said he was all for it. Here’s a guy that’s done it before. He knows how to get on base. When he’s good he can work 8-10 pitch at bats, so I just said, hey, just go out there and be you, and have fun and hopefully those other guys will knock you in.”
What did they discuss in that hour-long conversation?
“We just sat and just chatted about everything,” Martinez said. “Something that the players know, hey my door is always open. Just chatted about the game, chatted about his family, and just had a good conversation. I know he wants to help us win badly, so bumping him up to the leadoff spot, which I know he’s done before, he’s good at it, he’ll get us going.”
Did the talk help?
“He said he felt good,” Martinez said. “That’s what we have these conversations for. Don’t want anybody to leave my office feeling bad.”
Eaton talked late in August about having hard time finding his rhythm this season, in the odd, 60-game, empty stadium, pandemic campaign.
“It’s been difficult for me, as I know with other guys as well. It’s just kind of finding that adrenaline,” he said.
“As you guys know, I’m kind of a big adrenaline junky with just getting ready for the game, and getting pumped up, and getting going, and it’s just kind of, for me, it’s been kind of hard to find that type of rhythm.
‘Again with no fans, as well as it’s just been kind of a weird year for me. With the training in the kind of sleepier months of COVID early on, trying to train.
“Trying to get up to speed as quick as I can and I feel like I’ve been feeling better as of late, but day-to-day at this point.”
“The rhythm hasn’t really been there, but there’s no excuse, you’ve got be a professional at the end of the day,” Eaton added, “but again, we’re all kind of human, and like I said, the rhythm hasn’t really been there for me, and kind of getting that grind mentality and having that dynamic usually helps me. But hopefully, like I said, we can find that.”
His manager said he understood the sentiment, and he agreed as well, that it was just an odd season for everyone involved.
“I think we’re definitely in a different situation this year, but so is everybody else. So we’ve got to find a way to get yourself motivated and go out there and do the best you can,” he said.
“I tell the players it’s different, but it’s different for everybody. Every team is going through some kind of adversity. So, just go out there and you play the game. When the game starts today at 4:00, I expect these guys to go out there and do the best they can and play the game. That’s what they’re good at.
“I think about this all the time. I never have any bad days. Some days are obviously better than others, but I try to tell the players, focus on the here and now. You can’t — not one of you guys is going to carry us, everybody has got to do their part.
“Just do the best you can every day, that’s all I ask them to do. And play hard. And for the most part these guys, they do play hard.
“They do wear their emotions sometimes on their sleeves, and we just got to kind of take it one step at a time. You’re not going to win 10 games in one day, so just focus on today.”
Eaton K’d on a check-swing strike three the first time up against Philly righty Zach Eflin in the series finale, and K’d looking at an 0-2 fastball with a runner in scoring position in the third.
With two on and no one out in the fifth, and the Phillies up, 4-2, Eaton bunted the runners over to second and third, and both scored to tie things up, but Eaton, who’d taken a tough fall on an attempt before he got the bunt down, left the game between innings, though it apparently wasn’t an injury he suffered when he fell at the plate.
“He jammed his knee on first base,” Martinez said after what ended up a 6-5 loss.
“He jammed his knee on the base. So we’ll see what happens. He might be day-to-day.”