Victor Robles, leading off in the season opener, went 1 for 3 with two walks and two runs scored, walking with one out in the third and scoring on Trea Turner’s first home run this season, and singling to start the bottom of the ninth before scoring from second, after a HBP on Trea Turner, when Juan Soto hit a walk-off single to center field that beat Atlanta.
Not a bad start for the Robles-as-leadoff-man experiment the Nationals embarked on this spring.
“I think Victor will get a lot of pitches to hit with Soto or Trea hitting behind him, either or,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters as Spring Training wound down.
“For me, he’s got to be aggressive in the strike zone, and when he gets an opportunity to get a good pitch to hit, the biggest thing is to put it in play and not miss them, or not hit them foul.
“I say that about everybody. You get very few pitches to hit in this game, when you do get them, you can’t miss them, you’ve got to hit them hard, put them in play somewhere, and that’s something that he’s done this spring, you can see that.
“The exit velo off his bat has increased tremendously, and that’s a good sign.”
Robles’s teammates see it too. Turner talked this week about the adjustments he’s seen from Robles at the plate.
“He’s just recognizing the strike zone better, seeing the ball better,” Turner said, after a 2 for 4 (single, HR) game in the season opener. “I think in years past, he used to swing early in the count more, and now I feel like I see him taking pitches that in the past he might have swung at, and he’s getting himself in really good counts and ... walking. I think that’s important up there, but like you saw in the last at bat [Tuesday], he got a great pitch to hit and he took a great swing on that as well, so just kind of maturing as a hitter and getting himself good pitches to hit I think is key, and I think he’s been doing that most of Spring Training and definitely did that today.”
Martinez said the two walks for Robles in the opener were definitely a positive sign for the new leadoff man in the nation’s capital.
“Absolutely,” the skipper said.
“Working the counts. He did a great job yesterday, taking his walks. That’s the stuff that we want him to do, that we encourage him to do, but he’s definitely getting better.
“The biggest thing with Vic is when he gets the ball in the strike zone he hits the ball hard, you know, and up till last year he chased a lot of balls outside of the strike zone, and puts himself in a hole.
“We want him to be aggressive in the strike zone and you saw that yesterday. If he can continue to do that he can help us in the top of the order.”
In the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader with the Braves, Robles singled in his first at bat of the game, on a 2-0 fastball from left-hander Max Fried, and scored on a Turner homer in the next at bat.
Robles went 1 for 3 (with a HBP) in the first of two, then walked twice and stole a base in an 0 for 1 game in the nightcap in D.C., leaving him 2 for 7 with four walks and two Ks overall in the season-opening series.
“He’s been awesome,” Robles’s manager said after the Nationals dropped both ends of the doubleheader.
“I said this before in Spring Training, we’re going to get him to lead off. We talked a lot about staying in the strike zone, and so far he’s done that and we’re going to keep him there, he’s done a great job.
“So, as long as he stays in the strike zone and doesn’t chase, he can do a lot of things, especially if he gets on base and steals a base.
“He stole a base for us there late in the game. I like him up there. I talked to Trea about [hitting with Robles on base], and Trea wants him to run when he gets an opportunity to run.
“He wants to make things happen. So, it’s good to see what we worked on in Spring Training, he’s carrying over to the season so far.”