Davey Martinez decided he needed Yadiel Hernández’s bat in the lineup, with the 33-year-old outfielder swinging it early this season, and in three games leading up to Wednesday’s matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida, he had Hernández hitting second, trying to ride a hot bat.
Hernández responded with six hits (one home run) in 14 plate appearances in three games, over which he walked twice and struck out twice.
While Hernández’s outfield game is still a work in progress, he’s hit wherever he’s played, be it in Cuba, the minors, or now the majors, and Martinez’s club can use more power now with Juan Soto on the 10-Day IL and sluggers Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber struggling at the start of the season.
And the Nationals’ skipper likes what he’s seen from Hernández hitting second.
“Here’s a guy, one he’s swinging the bat well, and he’s taking his walks so far. He’s swinging a hot bat,” Martinez said.
“So, I don’t want to move him. Two, if you look at his career, and how he’s hit, this guy hits the baseball. Whether it’s right-handed, left-handed, he hits the ball, and hits the ball well, and hits the ball hard.
“I kind of like that. I’m trying to get him on base. I moved Trea [Turner] back to leadoff spot today with [Ryan Zimmerman] hitting third and [Josh] Bell hitting fourth, trying to get some guys on base for the guys in the middle of our lineup, and see if we can score some runs and score early. As I always talk about we want to try to score first and put the pressure on the other team, and I think Yadi gives us an opportunity to do that.”
The idea of having a contact hitter behind Turner was attractive to the manager too.
“Absolutely,” Martinez told reporters.
“And plus Yadi can put the ball in the seats just as good as anybody. Like I said, he’s hit the ball really well so far. So I want to keep him there for now.”
Hernández, for his part, told reporters last week that he’s enjoying getting regular at bats as part of the lineup as opposed to trying to stay locked in while getting irregular PAs off of the bench as a pinch hitter.
“The more at bats I get the more comfortable I feel, and the better I should be playing,” he said earlier this month.
“It’s kind of hard to come off the bench and produce just one at bat here and there, but the more I play the more comfortable I feel and hopefully the results will be there.”
He’s also getting more comfortable on the defensive end, putting in the work while he was at the Alternate Site in Fredericksburg, VA between opportunities in the majors.
“The most I’ve worked on definitely has been my defense,” he said. “I’ve been working on my agility to be able to move a little bit better and faster out there in the outfield, and my hitting I’ve kept to the same routine as I always have.”
Martinez said the outfielder is one of several players on the roster they put on a running program over the winter with the goal of increasing their speed and agility.
“It’s a process,” Hernández explained. “I definitely feel a lot better with my agility.
“I’m getting used to it. At the Alternate Site I played a little bit of center field just to be able to move better, and I just feel overall better.”
Any chance we’ll see him in center in the majors? If they want to keep his bat in the lineup once Soto returns, that might be one way, though he doesn’t profile as a typical center field defender.
“I want to continue to get him out there and work on it, like I said, he’s doing a lot better out there,” Martinez said this past Tuesday afternoon.
“His footwork has really improved. So the good thing is that he’s swinging the bat well, he’s getting on base for us. Right now, I want to leave him in that 2-hole.
“He seems to be doing well ... his routine is to get balls in center field and keep working on it. So we’ll see what happens.”
Hernández’s focus now is on taking advantage of the opportunities he gets and making the most of his chances.
“It’s like last year,” he told reporters. “I worked hard to get to this level. The main thing is continuing to work, you know, it’s one of those things that I focused a lot in the offseason, improve on my defense, improve on whatever the team needs me to do to obviously help them win up here, whether it’s come off the bench and play sparingly, whatever it is, I worked harder at it and increased my focus to help stay up here and help the team win at all means possible.”