Before he suffered a right ankle sprain when he rolled it rounding first base on a soggy dirt infield in Wrigley Field in the middle of last month, Victor Robles was on a roll at the plate.
After a .227/.346/.273 month of April, in which he hit one double and one triple with nine walks and 18 Ks in 22 games and 78 plate appearances, Robles was up to .265/.345/.388 over 18 games and 56 PAs in May, with six doubles, four walks, and 14 Ks over that stretch.
His improved plate discipline in the first two months stood out.
His Chase% on the year, 19.8%, was down significantly from 2020’s 29.1%, and a career mark of 28.4%, and Robles’s BB% too was up too, to 9.7% from 4.8% in ‘20’s 60-game campaign, and his career average of 5.9%.
“Just being a lot more patient,” Robles said when asked on Tuesday what was behind that improvement in his discipline at the plate.
“The coaching staff has helped me with that as well a lot,” he added, “especially during my BP with certain BP guys like [Bullpen catcher and team trainer] Octavio [Martinez], [Hitting Coach] Kevin Long, and Six [Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler].
“At times I asked them to purposefully throw balls that are close in the zone just so I can see and get a better judgement of the strike zone, and that has helped me a lot, and just being focused on being more patient at the plate.”
His manager has definitely noticed Robles’s improvements in terms of plate discipline.
“This is something we talked about with him all winter and coming into Spring Training,” Davey Martinez said in his own Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, “and he’s worked on it, about just getting the ball in the strike zone, and less chase outside the strike zone, and he’s been good. He’s working good counts, he’s getting ahead of counts, he’s putting the ball in play better with two strikes, so he’s doing well and he’s finally understanding what balls he can hit hard and what balls he needs to lay off of.
“Kudos to him for really, really taking it to heart and really working, you know, as I’ve said before with him it’s just about getting on base and not worry about driving the baseball, but just concentrate on staying in the middle of the field, because when he’s on base good things happen for us.”
Asked about Robles’s batting practice activities in terms of asking BP pitchers to throw balls that are “close in the zone” as the outfielder said, and if that’s asking a lot of them, Martinez laughed.
“It’s hard enough for our BP pitchers, you know, but they do,” the skipper said.
“[Robles] takes a lot of pitches during batting practice just because he wants to get used to seeing where the balls are at and which balls he wants to swing at, so he’s been good, like I said, he’s been good, he’s going to get better, he understands, like I said, he understands which balls he can hit and which balls he can put in play and hit hard.
“So, and of course, he’s got a two-strike approach now where he spreads out quite a bit and all he’s looking to do is hit the ball up the middle of the field hard.”
All he’s looking to do now is get back to playing every day, after an unfortunate injury kept him out.
Robles said he initially played through the injury thinking it wasn’t too bad, but when he saw the play he said he was happy that it wasn’t worse.
“During the game when it happened the adrenaline was still kicking in so it definitely hurt,” he said, “... but I felt like I could continue playing and I tried to stay in the game because I didn’t think it was that serious, but as the game progressed, and I started to cool down a little bit it became difficult to stand up and I knew I couldn’t continue to play, and actually when I saw the video of what happened, that’s when I kind of got a little scared because it looked more serious than it ended up being, so that was one thing that did scare me a little bit.”
He didn’t question why it had to happen just when he was heating up at the plate though.
“I live my life guiding myself through God,” Robles said.
“And everything is meant to happen for a reason, so if it happened, there’s a reason for it to happen, but fortunately we’re back in playing form.”
“What was the reason his injury happened?” a reporter asked.
“Like I said before,” Robles explained, “usually when something happens it’s to liberate you from something worse coming to me. I don’t know that that other thing could have been or what could be worse, but everything has a purpose and things happen for a reason.”
In his first start back in the Nationals’ lineup, Robles went 0 for 4 with a walk and two Ks.
“He’s trying to work counts. He actually did a good job in trying to keep the ball in the strike zone tonight,” his manager said.