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Running cold: Washington Nationals’ baserunning blunders add up

Outs on base have been numerous, costly

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets
Victor Robles ran around second base and through a stop sign in Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Mets. The Nationals have been successful at taking extra bases just 39 percent of the time this season.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Twice again in Sunday’s 4-0 loss to the New York Mets, Washington Nationals’ runners were thrown out on the basepaths.

It’s been a problem before this season, and this time it cost the Nationals a chance to score runs against a vulnerable Tijuan Walker, who allowed three hits and three walks over six innings but never let a runner get to third base, with some help from the runners themselves.

The first hitter of the game, Josh Harrison, jumped on the first pitch from Walker for a clean single to right, but after Yadiel Hernandez worked the count to 3-2, Walker caught Harrison off first base and picked him off.

The next batter, Yadiel Hernàndez, walked. So the Nats could have had two men on with nobody out. Instead they had a man on first with one out for both Trea Turner and Josh Bell. Both hit the ball hard, but straight at infielders.

The opportunity was lost

“It’s 3-2, we’re getting him going, I wanted to get him going,” Martinez said. “I thought Yadi would put the ball in play.”

The next out on the basepaths also cost the Nationals a run after violating the basic baseball rule of never making the first out at third base.

Voctor Robles led off the third with a gapper to right, the ball rolling all the way to the wall before Michael Conforto gathered it in and threw toward third. By that time, Robles had rounded second, igoring a stop sign from third base coach Bob Henley.

Jonathan Villar made the relay throw to JD Davis at third, who was waiting to put the tag on Robles.

Robles said he was thinking three bases out of the box but hadn’t realized the situation.

“Reflecting back on it,” Robles said afterward. “Having the pitcher hitting behind me it would have been better and safer for me to stay at second base.”

Martinez said he will keep schooling Robles on the fundamentals of getting a runner to third base with less than two outs.

“We just got to continue to stay on it with him and talk to him about being aggressive but being smart at the same time.”

The play was frustrating because it was similar to a play Juan Soto made less than a week earlier against Arizona. At first with two out, Soto drew a wild pickoff throw, but went full-steam into third base and was tagged out to end the inning.

Martinez similarly played down the mistake, praising Soto’s aggressiveness and former National Asdrubal Cabrera’s throw.

But it’s not as if those were the only outs the Nats have made on the basepaths this season. They had made seven prior to Sunday’s game, according to Baseball Reference, tied with six other teams for second-most in the National League. The positive is that no single player has been thrown out on base more than once in the first 19 games.

But the Nats have been successful in taking extra bases just 39 percent of the time so far this season, 12th in the NL, with just 16 extra bases taken on the year.

Aside from Trea Turner’s five steals this season, the Nats are 2-for-4 in steal attempts, with Robles and Soto each getting thrown out once.

So is there a baserunning problem?

Martinez says it’s more about finding a balance.

“It’s all about thinking about the game and where we’re at in the game,” said Martinez. “Just being smart, being aggressive but being smart at the same time.”