Davey Martinez didn’t pull any punches when he discussed Victor Robles’s odd baserunning gaffe after Saturday night’s loss to the San Francisco Giants in Nationals Park.
Robles, at first base after a HBP in the bottom of the eighth, with a runner on second in a 2-1 game in the Giants’ favor after a Starlin Castro RBI double started the bottom of the eighth in the nightcap of the doubleheader, tagged up and took off for second base on a Josh Bell fly to right that was caught, and Robles slid past the bag on a close play on the throw in, and was tagged out in a rundown for a double play that all-but sealed Washington’s fate in the one-run loss.
“Honestly, I thought it was a poor — right there, I mean, that’s not a very smart decision,” the Nationals’ fourth-year manager said.
“You know, we had the top of the order coming up. Man on first and third, just let the game play out. You see the ball coming, you tag up, you see the ball, you see that the throw is going to be really close, you just come back, and let those guys get a chance to hit. We had [Trea] Turner and [Juan] Soto [due up].
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow. I mean, he’s one of those guys as we all know, he tries to play super-aggressive, and he’s got to know when to do it and when not to. So, I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”
Martinez, acknowledging it was another example of someone trying to make things happen as the Nationals have continued to struggle to score runs, did, however, reiterate that it just was not the right decision.
“We just got to relax and play the game,” he said. “We had something going there at the end, and to get doubled up like that was tough.”
As the skipper added at another point in his post game Zoom call, he knows Robles likes to play an ultra-aggressive style, but that has to be combined with baseball IQ.
“It’s just knowing the situation of the game,” the veteran of 16 MLB seasons said. “And that’s something that I’m going to talk to him about. I’m not going to sit there and blow him up about him going, but I want to ask him why he felt like he needed to go, and then explain to him what the situation was so he understands and next time he gets it.”
So, what was the situation as the manager saw it? Why should Robles have stayed put, or in what scenario is trying for second acceptable?
“If the ball was hit to left-center field like that, and deeper, or deep center field, and he saw the ball clearly, then yeah,” Martinez said, “that ball was hit into right-center field, which for me is the shortest distance, between right field and second base.
“Guy made a good throw. Throw was at the bag, you just go to pull up. He did the right thing by going to tag, but once he sees the throw being made, he should have just pulled up and came back, and who knows what the next pitch will bring. It could have been a wild pitch, passed ball, and he gets on second base.
“Anything could happen. But for me, to run into an out in that situation, it just was a critical mistake.”
“The thought process that ran through my mind,” Robles explained, through team translator Octavio Martinez, “... was that I know I was the winning run on the bases, and as soon as the fly ball went up I wanted to make sure I tried to put myself in a position to score. And when I saw my teammate tagging up I felt like it was a good opportunity to try to do the same and try to make it a little bit better and easier for either Trea Turner or Juan Soto to deliver a base hit and score the runs.”
Asked about his manager’s comments to reporters, about it not really being the right spot to make that decision, Robles said, “No, absolutely, I agree with him.”
“Now looking and reflecting back, it was not the right decision, especially since it turned out to be a double play and I took the at bat away from Juan Soto, who is one of our best hitters in the lineup here, and unfortunately I consider myself a very aggressive player, and I feel like — not that I want to make mistakes, but if I do make mistakes I want them to be on the aggressive side.”
Though he knew he had a conversation with his manager coming, Robles said that at that point, in the immediate aftermath of the loss he hadn’t spoken to Martinez about the play.
“I think he’s just trying to just let me get some rest and recoup myself,” Robles said, “... and come back tomorrow and I’m pretty sure he’ll have a conversation with me tomorrow, and just to learn from the situations and just to know the game and know when I need to be aggressive and when maybe I need to pull on the reins a little bit. And I think more than likely that conversation will take place tomorrow.”
These sorts of conversations, or teachable moments, are something Martinez relishes, though he’d probably prefer not to have to have them.
“As you know I’ve had multiple conversations, not even with Victor but with all the players,” he said on Saturday night. “But it’s a teaching moment for me, and that’s what I love to do, and he’s done — as you can see, he’s stealing bases a little bit better, he’s being smart about it, so these are based on conversations, when he can go, when not to go, going first-to-third, things of that nature. He’s fast, but I can tell you right now you’re never going to outrun that baseball. It’s tough, and that’s something that he needs to learn.”
When Robles arrived at the ballpark on Sunday morning, Martinez did pull him aside.
“I did. And I heard [Robles’s] comments last night, and good for him, he took responsibility about it,” Martinez said. “I talked to him today and like I said, I asked him questions, he responded, and then we went over the scenario. He kind of — he understood. So, like I said yesterday, it’s a fine line for him about how to be aggressive, when to be aggressive, and when to kind of just let the game play the way we see fit.
“Hopefully he learned, again, he learned his lesson.”
Martinez said in the course of the conversations, they actually touched on a fairly recent example of a similar situation in which Robles made a different decision.
‘We had the same scenario with him, which was funny, in Tampa. I don’t know if you recall, but he was on first base, Starlin tagged up, and the throw was actually high where we thought he probably should have went to second base. He didn’t. And I talked to him about that, and his response was that Soto is coming up and he wanted to stay on first. So I told him, I said, ‘Okay, [perfect], what’s the difference between what you did then knowing that you’ve got Trea and Soto both coming up with the tying run on third?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re right. I should have thought about it clearly,’ and once again he said, ‘I was just really trying to get on second base because I was the winning run,’ and I explained to him again, I said, ‘Hey, when you’ve got those two guys coming up and Trea hits a double, do you think you can score from first base?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Then you’re in scoring position at first base, so just understand the game, and honestly listen to your coaches as well,’ because [first base coach] Randy [Knorr] was telling him, ‘Hey, stay right here, stay right here,’ but he thought that he could make it.”
Does going into the conversation knowing that Robles is super-aggressive and just trying to spark something make it easier to understand the outfielder’s thinking?
“It’s a learning process for me as well to learn a player and to understand what he thinks in a moment like that,” Martinez said, “and a moment like that, it’s high-leverage, you put yourself in a spot where his run is the winning run, and I try to figure out how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking that, and then have to explain to him what his thoughts should have been. So this way he understands and learns.
“Like I said, there were two different scenarios, he did two different things, and I have to show him and teach him like when the right and when the wrong is.
“One time I told him, I said, ‘You know what, because you thought that way with Juan and not wanting to take the bat away, that’s a good way to think. It really was.
“On the other hand, you did the opposite, knowing that it’s one out. We had one out, and all of a sudden you ran into an out knowing that we had two guys that could have drove you in from first base.
“So, let’s just think before you react, and understand and know what’s happening throughout the game.
“So he was good. Like I said, he looks at you and you can tell that he’s sorry, he tells you he’s sorry, and I said, I just want you to learn how to play the game and I want you to go out there and have fun, but I don’t want to take the aggressiveness away from you at times, but yet you’ve got to be smart about when to be that aggressive.”