Davey Martinez politely requested that reporters not read too much into the lineup he sent out against the Miami Marlins on Wednesday afternoon, with Victor Robles leading off, and Juan Soto hitting second, followed by Trea Turner batting third.
That top three in the Nationals’ order definitely got reporters’ attention.
“I kind of wanted just to stagger the lineup a little bit just right now to see what it looks like,” the manager explained before the third game of the spring.
“I wouldn’t read into it too much. [laughs]. As we all know, it was vice versa last year, for the most part. Trea hit in front of Soto, which they did well together, but I just want to see what this kind of looks like.
“It’s nice to see that Soto is going to play his first game. He’s doing well. His foot feels good, and Trea is actually doing well, all these guys look good.
“So, I just want to get them at bats right now, and get them as many at bats in 4-5 innings as possible.”
Soto, of course, was starting for the first time this spring after fouling a ball off of his foot as he took live BP over the weekend, but his presence in the lineup wasn’t as interesting as the fact that Victor Robles was leading off, something that Martinez and his staff have discussed as a possibility this season if Robles can show some growth at the plate.
“We’re running a lot of different lineups, different numbers, talking to a bunch of our analytical people,” Martinez said earlier this spring.
“I would like to get Robles up at the top of the lineup — even if it’s just against left-handed pitching. So we’ll see how that plays out.
“I’d like to get Trea somewhere — second or third maybe, we’ll see how it plays out this Spring.”
Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long too talked this week about the work that Robles has put in over the winter and now early this spring, as he tries to bounce back from a down year at the plate in 2020.
“Victor has made some big changes,” Long explained.
“We sent him out with a plan when the season ended to kind of spread out to get into his legs again, to start using his lower half the way he’s capable of using it.
“We also have a two-strike approach with him now. If you look at his numbers with two strikes, they weren’t very good.”
In 105 plate appearances with two strikes last season, Robles put up a .134/.190/.186 with 53 Ks in at bats that got to two-strike counts. So, yeah, they weren’t very good.
“And the reason why is he still had a lot of movement and he still had a lot of stuff going on in his swing,” Long continued.
“And if you look at, for instance, Trea or Juan, you see Juan spread out, you see him into his legs, you see how there’s very little movement with two strikes.
“When Trea goes to two strikes, he takes away his leg kick. He gets his foot down early, and he has a two-strike approach. Well, now Victor has one. So he’s made some good changes.”
The changes, of course, will take some time to get used to, but as Long said, that is kind of what Spring Training is for, really.
And this spring is a big one for the center fielder in D.C.
“Spring Training is going to be big for Victor Robles. Just to kind of get comfortable with some of these new things that he set out to do. He’s got a little more time, which, in the past he’s always been late, late, late, and he hasn’t been in a good position,” Long said.
“Right now he’s in a good position to see the ball and kind of react much, much, better. We’ll see. He’s had one game.
“He looked okay the first game, but again I think now what he’s doing is adjusting to being able to see the ball a little bit longer, letting it travel and being a little bit shorter to the ball, while using his lower half. So, we’ll see.
“Again, he’s probably, of all the guys, I think his Spring Training, and Carter [Kieboom’s], I would say is another one, that their Spring Training is very important to them.
“We need to see some signs of those guys having some success and doing things differently than they did maybe last year.”
If they continue to see positive signs from Robles, Long said, moving him to the leadoff spot could be big for the lineup.
“I mean, if we can have Victor Robles lead off, it’s huge,” Long said.
“Because it now allows us to put Trea, who’s now a really, really polished hitter, it allows us to put him in maybe the two-, or three-hole, and it kind of lengthens out our lineup.
“Victor can be a very big piece to us being a championship-caliber team. We need him to progress and get better.
“If he can lead off and he starts to learn the strike zone, and do some things that a good leadoff hitter is capable of, we’re in good shape.
“Against lefties, if you look at Victor’s numbers, they pop out at you,” Long said of the 23-year-old’s .326/.404/.413 line against lefties in 2020 and his career .273/.365/.411 line vs southpaws.
“They’re pretty impressive. Against righties, that’s where he’s struggling. So, we got to gain on that,” Long added.
Robles had a .180/.250/.279 line vs righties in 2020; and he has a.241/.303/.405 career line against right-handers.
“But if you were saying against a lefty right now, you can lead off Victor all day long, I think we’ve got our leadoff hitter.
“We need him to progress. Those numbers that you see against lefties, he needs to close that gap. It can’t be one extreme to the other.
“The right-handed pitcher, against those, his [numbers] need to improve. If he does that then he can certainly lead off.”