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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Kyle Schwarber’s knee; Erick Fedde’s cutter; Juan Soto on the road...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s daily media availability...

Schwarber’s Right Knee Talk:

For the second game in a row on Tuesday, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez lifted Kyle Schwarber late in the game for a defensive replacement, as he had on Sunday afternoon in Nationals Park, when the 28-year-old slugger’s right knee started to bark.

“Schwarber, once again we took him out for defense because of his knee, so we’re going to have to keep an eye on him and I plan on doing that,” Martinez explained on Tuesday night in Philadelphia, PA’s Citizens Bank Park.

Late in games, Martinez said, as Schwarber said himself, it makes sense to take him out for a defensive replacement if the knee is an issue, for the sake of the outfielder and for the team, as a whole.

“I didn’t want to take him out, but late in the innings like that I feel like we need to get him out of there,” Martinez told reporters.

On Wednesday morning, in advance of the second of two with the Phillies, Martinez was asked how they’re going to manage Schwarber going forward.

“We’re just going to continue to have these conversations,” the fourth-year manager said.

“As you know, as I told you before, Kyle competes, likes to play, loves to play, he doesn’t like getting taken out, but for me we’ve got to be smart, but if we can get him three at bats, four at bats, and we got the lead, it’s the right thing to do, not only for the club, but for him, try to keep him out there. We’ll see where he’s at with the whole knee issue and then we’ll go from there.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

“He’s in there again today, he comes in there early, he was here early this morning, getting treatment, he gets loose, he does everything. It doesn’t seem to bother him when he hits, it’s the sudden stops and goes where it acts up a little bit, but we’ll see where he’s at. He says he feels better, and then something happens and he says it starts aching him, so we just got to be smart.”

Schwarber has, of course, been on an absolute tear, going 14 for 41 (.341/.378/1.000) with nine home runs in 11 games and 45 plate appearances going into the second game with the Phillies yesterday, and the left fielder hit his 10th in the 12 games in top of the fifth inning on Wednesday, tying things up at 5-5 with a three-run shot, his 19th home run overall in 2021.

As for what’s going on with the knee that’s causing Schwarber’s issues? And Martinez did take Schwarber out in the eighth on Wednesday too

“It just locks up on him,” Martinez said before the game, a 13-12 win the end, “... so it’s something we just got to continue to look at and hope that over time it gets better, like I said, I have conversations with him every day, before, after, middle of the game. It’s something that I have to make sure that I’m on top of and we don’t get him hurt.”

Road Soto:

Someone finally asked Davey Martinez about Juan Soto’s home/road splits this season. It’s actually come up before, but it did again.

Going into play on Wednesday, Soto, 22, had a .231/.377/.260 line with three doubles in 34 games and 130 plate appearances in Nationals Park, and a .330/.437/.610 line with two of his five doubles overall this season, and all eight of his home runs in 26 games and 119 PAs on the road.

What gives, Davey?

“I really don’t know, honestly,” Martinez said. “I know at home he’s hit the ball really hard, he just hasn’t hit the ball up in the air much at home, for some unknown reason. He’s hit a lot of balls hard on the ground, but I have no idea. Maybe he’s trying too hard in front of our home fans, I don’t know, but hopefully that will turn around here real soon. He had some good at bats yesterday. Like I said, regardless of what people think, he hit the ball the other way which is a good sign for us. Got a base hit and he stayed through a ball and hit the ball up the middle which was kind of nice as well, so hopefully he starts getting going and you start seeing those power numbers that he’s put up in the last couple years.”

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Soto’s .949 OPS in June going into the second of two with the Phillies in CBP was up over his .870 OPS in April and his .732 OPS in May.

Martinez said he’s seen good signs with Soto going to the opposite field and up the middle more in recent games.

“Absolutely. That and he’s hitting the ball up in the air a lot better,” Martinez said.

“If he continues to do that you’ll see the OPS stay up over the .900s and we need him to do that. I told him it’s not about — you’re going to hit home runs, there’s no question, but for him it’s about the run production, driving in runs and using the whole field when there’s a guy on second base, or a guy on third base with less than two outs, just focus on putting the ball in play and driving in the run.”

Soto went 0 for 4 with a run scored in the Nationals’ win on Wednesday.

Fedde’s Scherzer Cutter:

Erick Fedde talked after his return to the rotation, back on June 12th, about the help he has received from pitching coach Jim Hickey along the way.

“I think he’s been a big help with me,” the right-hander told reporters. “I’ve said before early in Spring Training he kind of broke down some of the things that the best sinker-ballers in the big leagues do and compared them to my stuff and we just tried to match up a few things of mine that were off, and I think that’s really just connected the dots, and then just being able to execute up in the zone for the first time in my career with the cutter has really opened up all four sections of the plate.”

Going into yesterday’s start, Fedde had upped the cutter usage this season, throwing it 25.4% of the time, up from 16.6% in 2020 and 17.2% in 2019, and he’d held hitters to a .205 AVG on the pitch.

“His cutter has been really good,” Martinez said before the second of two with the Phillies in the City of Brotherly Love, “and it’s where he’s throwing it to lefties too.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

“Obviously he can throw it for strikes when he wants to, but he’s burying that cutter in on lefties, and it’s a great pitch for him, because it does get the lefties off that two-seamer a lot of times, so when he can do that and mix in his changeup and his curveball, he’s going to be effective against lefties. And that’s something that I know him and Hickey talked a lot about, how to get lefties out, versus righties, and he’s been pretty good. When he can throw two different pitches going two different directions on both sides of the plate, and throw them for strikes like that, it’s good. The biggest thing, like I always say with Fedde is pounding the strike zone, throwing strike one, if you look at his numbers, when he’s ahead in the count he’s pretty nasty, so I hope that he does that today, he goes out there and attacks these guys and gets ahead, and go from there.”

The cutter, of course, is something that Fedde said earlier this season he learned from Nats’ ace (and three-time Cy Young winner) Max Scherzer.

“It’s his cutter,” Fedde said. “He taught me it probably two years ago. And it’s just one of those things where I think it takes time. He always says — I’m trying to remember what he says, it takes 2-3 years to really learn a new pitch, and I think I’m about at that point, so it’s good.”

Fedde didn’t last long in Wednesday’s game, giving up six hits (two home runs), three walks, and five earned runs in four innings, over which he threw 74 pitches.