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For Washington Nationals’ Lane Thomas consistent at-bats made a big difference

Lane Thomas credited regular at-bats he got at Triple-A with the Cardinals with the success he had once he was dealt to the Nationals.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Cincinnati Reds Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Lane Thomas put up a rough .104/.259/.125 line over 32 games (just 10 starts) and 58 plate appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals between April 11th and June 20th, then he got an opportunity to get regular at-bats at Triple-A in the Cards’ system in July before a deadline deal brought the 26-year-old outfielder to the Washington Nationals’ organization.

Thomas played three games with Triple-A Rochester, the Nats’ top minor league affiliate, then the Nationals called him up to the majors.

“[Thomas] sprays the ball around, hits the ball to right-center, left-center,” Davey Martinez said when asked what the scouting reports told him about the 2014 5th Round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays who was traded to St. Louis in return for international bonus slot money three years later, before the Nationals acquired him from the Cardinals straight up for lefty Jon Lester this past July 30th.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

“Moves the baseball,” Martinez continued, “... he can play left field, center field, right field, just a good all-around player. He’s got some speed, but we like the way he swings the bat. He was doing well in Triple-A, he came over he was doing well down there, so we’re going to give him an opportunity to play.”

Thomas put up a .304/.407/.457 line, five doubles, a triple, and eight walks in 14 games and 54 PAs between August 15-31, and he told reporters that getting consistent at-bats at Triple-A prior to the trade made a big difference.

“When I was with the Cardinals I was only taking a couple of at bats a week, and then got the opportunity to go play in Triple-A and kind of get my feet back under me,” he said.

“So before I came here I was playing every day and then got to play in Rochester before I got activated, so I think it’s just getting the consistent at bats every day has helped out.

“Let’s just hope it keeps going that way.”

With incumbent center fielder Victor Robles optioned to Rochester at the start of the final month of the season, Thomas got plenty of at-bats down the stretch in September, and it continued to go well for the outfielder, who finished the season with a .266/.354/.516, nine-double, seven-home run run over his final 30 games and 147 PAs.

“I guess that is kind of a crazy little turn of events,” Thomas said of the inconsistent at-bats in St. Louis, the move to the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, the trade to the Nationals, and the strong run he went on with Washington to end the year, “but at the end of the day I think I always knew I could play, it’s just getting the opportunity and running with it.”

“He’s done really well,” Martinez said in mid-September. “I like him a lot. He’s not afraid — he takes pitches — he’s not afraid to hit with two strikes, so he takes pitches, so he works good counts and puts the ball in play. He hits the ball hard, and you see the results that he’s having, so he’s been a joy to watch. His defense has been pretty good as well, so he’s getting a chance to play every day and he’s taking every opportunity to do the best he can.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

GM Mike Rizzo too was happy with the return the Nats got from the Cards, telling reporters over the final weekend of the regular season that Thomas had done well down the stretch.

“Lane has been terrific for us,” Rizzo said. “His skill set was as advertised by our scouts when they scouted him.

“He’s got good pitch recognition at the plate. He’s got a good short swing. He puts the bat on the ball. He’s got surprising power. He’s got a good arm in the outfield. He runs well.

“And he’s a good outfielder, so that’s a good skill set for any ballclub.”

Rizzo didn’t bite when a reporter asked what Thomas’s success, and Robles’s struggles and demotion late in the year, meant for the center field job going forward.

“Victor is a terrific player with a great skill set himself, he’s a young player that we feel his best days are ahead of us,” Rizzo said, “...and what does Lane Thomas’s success mean for Robles? It’s just another good player on the roster.”