Davey Martinez was clear earlier this week, when he switched things up in the lineup for the series finale in St. Louis, that the decision to move Victor Robles from the leadoff spot to the ninth spot was not a reaction to the 23-year-old outfielder’s relatively slow start.
Through his first eight games, Robles, who was transitioned to the leadoff role this spring by his manager, was 6 for 28 (.214/.353/.286) with a triple, four walks, and eight strikeouts in 34 plate appearances.
“I think he’s doing well,” Martinez said.
“And he’s getting his swing off on good pitches. He seems to be fouling off the pitches that he was hitting in Spring Training a little bit. But this has nothing to do — there will be days where I put him back at leadoff and keep [Trea] Turner, 2 and [Juan] Soto, 3.
“Today I wanted to go Turner, 1, and Soto 2, and [Ryan Zimmerman] is going to hit third.”
When he put Robles ninth for the second game in a row in the series opener with Arizona on Thursday night in the nation’s capital, the fourth-year skipper said it was about not wanting to switch things up, after an impressive 6-0 win over St. Louis on Wednesday afternoon and the matchups in the opener with the D-backs.
“A little bit of both,” Martinez explained, of the lineup with Turner leading off, Soto hitting in the two-hole, and Josh Bell hitting third.
“I kind of like it,” he said. “We get Josh Bell back in there in the 3-hole. Like I said, yesterday, it’s about getting Trea and Soto and even Josh Bell now up there in case we need that extra at bat. It’s nice to have.”
And with Robles ninth, he added, he’d still get some of the benefits they were hoping he’d get from hitting in front of Turner and Soto as the leadoff man.
“The big thing with batting Victor ninth is he still has that protection from Trea and Juan,” the manager said.
“And it’s just as important for him to work good at bats and get on base. For me it’s like a second leadoff hitter when he’s down there like that.”
The focus this spring, as they transitioned Robles to the leadoff role, was to get him to stay in the zone, swing at strikes, and make contact with the pitches he got to hit, or take walks if necessary.
“I don’t want him to do anything different,” Martinez said of what he wanted to see from his center fielder batting 9th. “I want him to go out there, and work good at bats and try to get on base for us.”
In 29 games and 128 plate appearances in his career as a leadoff man, batting first in the lineup, Robles has a .283/.359/.460 line, and as a No 9 hitter, he has a .200/.254/.322 line over 77 games and 251 PAs.
They don’t want him to approach his plate appearances any differently, but has he in the past? And what’s the message for him when he’s back hitting ninth?
“I don’t know if he treats it differently,” Martinez told reporters, “... but like I said, in Spring Training he was on a good path and he was doing everything, he was working his walks, and the biggest thing for him is that — getting balls in the strike zone and like I said, it doesn’t change. He’s still hitting in front of Trea. Which, if he was leading off, it’s the same thing.
“He’s got to understand that, and we’re making sure that he understands that. He just needs to get good pitches to hit and put them in play. As of late, he’s had some pitches to hit, he’s been fouling them off, in Spring Training he didn’t foul those ball off, so we got to get him to stop missing those pitches.”
Martinez hit Robles eighth on Friday night (where he had a .287/.348/.425 line in his career before tonight), and went 1 for 3, leaving him with a .194 AVG on the season.