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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez talks Juan Soto and first pitch hits; Starlin Castro + more...

Some odds and ends from Davey Martinez’s daily Zoom calls with reporters...

Not Having Vaccine Fights Here But...

Davey Martinez was asked on Monday, after the last three position players who were forced into quarantine as part of the club’s COVID outbreak returned, was asked if the organization having dealt with the situation changed their thinking when it came to getting vaccinated.

“I’m going to give you some breaking news,” Martinez told reporters. “Today, we had — most of our guys got vaccinated thanks to MLB and the Cardinals, it was a joint effort, and the guys that wanted to get vaccinated got vaccinated today, so we’re elated about that as well.

“For the most part we all got vaccinated. So we’re going to move forward, but yeah, I think seeing what happened to us, we were able to get this done today, and a lot of the guys participated in getting their vaccinations.”

Reporter [paraphrasing]: Was it a one dose vaccination?:

Martinez: “Yes, they got the Johnson and Johnson.”

Of course, the world woke up to news that the FDA and CDC were recommending a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout citing the fact that, “six young women out of the 6.8 million Americans who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine developed cerebral vein thrombosis (CVST), according to US authorities.”

Martinez, of course, heard the news, and offered the following measured response when he spoke with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re well aware of what happened, so we’re in contact with doctors, our own physicians, our trainers,” he said, “so we’re going to just monitor the guys, and make sure that they’re feeling okay.

“As of right now they feel fine... but you know we got that news yesterday after everybody got their shots, and some of the players were a little concerned, but all in all, the doctors, they’re going to monitor and keep us posted on what’s going on.”

Starlin The Making:

If the first game with the Nationals’ expected everyday lineup is ready, Starlin Castro, hitting sixth, is going to get a lot of at bats with runners on base, and his manager said that his skill set and ability to put the ball in play are well-suited to the spot.

“Here’s a guy whose bat-to-ball skills are really good,” Martinez said. “So we don’t ever want him to think about doing anything differently, We want him to go up there and just hit, and with guys on base, he does move the baseball. A lot of times we do talk to him about situational hitting, sometimes getting the ball in the air with like the sac fly, I thought that was awesome, and he had mentioned after he did that all he wanted to do was kind of stay inside the ball and hit a fly ball to right field, and I told him that’s perfect, and then he comes up again and gets a base hit, but I think that six-hole is a good spot for him because there’s going to be so many opportunities to drive in runs, and if he can move the baseball, he can pick up a lot of RBIs.”

Washington Nationals v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

There are, of course, positives and negatives to the Castro’s ability to put the barrel on the ball, wherever a pitch is thrown.

“He doesn’t really take his walks,” Martinez acknowledged. “He’s going up there to hit, and he’ll move the baseball. So, it could also — it works two ways sometimes, you know, but the biggest thing for us is that I know he’s working with [Hitting Coach Kevin Long] on, like I said, trying to get the ball in the air, not hit so many ground balls in those situations, and that’s something that he’s getting better at.”

Because he puts so many balls in play,” the skipper explained, “in those situations we don’t want to kill a rally with just a ground ball, so he’s starting to understand that, and like I said, he’s really trying in those situations, especially with guys on first and second base with less than two outs, really trying to stay more line drive conscious, but get the ball up in the air and not try to chase balls down in the zone.”

Martinez also explained what he means when he talks “bat-to-ball skills” in discussing the skill set Castro brings.

“If you watch him, he doesn’t really swing and miss often. He’s got the ability to hit balls and hit bad pitches, foul pitches off, put pitches in play, so when I say bat-to-ball skills, is that he really understands where that barrel is when he’s swinging.”

First Pitch Swinging Soto:

Dan Kolko, formerly MASN Dan, now Nationals Dan, noted in Martinez’s pregame Zoom call on Tuesday that when Juan Soto makes contact and puts the first pitch in play, as he had in 146 plate appearances in his career before last night, he has a ridiculous .497/.500/.917 line with 16 doubles and 15 home runs. Which, yeah, that’s interesting. But... why? Or how is he doing that?

“He’s just — he’s ready to hit,” Martinez said.

MLB: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s up there and he’s ready to jump on that first pitch, that first strike that he gets. So, and once again that’s something that it’s hard to teach a young hitter, but he understands.

“He also understands that that might be the only real pitch that he gets to hit the whole at bat, so he wants to go up there and make sure that he’s ready to hit the first pitch.”

In his own 16-year career, Martinez had a .313/.311/.420 line when connect on a first pitch, with 21 doubles, nine triples, and five home runs in 535 PAs.

He said he didn’t offer at too many first pitches in his career, though he sometimes wishes he had.

“I did not swing at the first pitch much until later in my career, but yeah when I was younger I took a lot of first pitch strikes,” Martinez said.

“I was the kind of guy that liked to work the strike zone a little bit, try to work the at bat a little bit.

“I wish I would’ve swung a little bit more first pitch, because a lot of times you look back and those were the best pitches to hit.”