Kyle Schwarber’s home run barrage has been impressive, but Josh Bell, the club’s other big offseason acquisition, has been quietly plugging away with hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler, doing all that he can to rebound from the slow start to his first season with the Washington Nationals.
Bell, 28, did struggle over the first month-plus of the season, but since May 13th, the Nats’ slugger has put up a .298/.360/.544 line with seven doubles, seven homers, 11 walks, and 26 Ks in 35 games and 125 plate appearances, and the seventh of those home runs was a big one, his second career grand slam, which put the Nationals up 11-9 in what ended up being a 13-12 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.
Bell started the at bat against reliever David Hale down 0-2, but worked the count full and hit the base-clearing blast out to left-center field.
“Big home run by J-Bell,” manager Davey Martinez said after the fourth straight win for his club. “That was huge. Two strikes being able to stay on the ball, hit it the other way. That was big, to me, that was the moment right there where I told myself, ‘That made him a National right there. That really did make him a National.’ So, hopefully he keeps it going now.”
“I was just watching Schwarber this past week have some huge hits,” Bell said, after the left fielder in the nation’s capital’s run of 10 homers in 12 games, “... it was nice to feel what he’s been feeling there just for a little bit.”
As for Martinez’s comments on this being Bell’s first big Nationals moment, Bell said he felt that too.
“Yeah, I mean, I feel like I’ve been waiting on that driven baseball in a big moment there for a little bit this season,” Bell said, “... especially on a fastball. I’ve been trying to drive the ball the other way all season long and been rolling over into the shift in big situations, but put a lot of work in with K-Long, and you know it seems like things are starting to turn around for me and hopefully that’s one of quite a few moments I have with the Nationals.”
Bell has hits in 12 of his last 15 games, with a .288/.351/.558 line, five doubles, and three home runs over that stretch, but he said he had felt a bit like he was treading water over these last few weeks.
“I mean, yeah, up until that hit,” he said. “Just driving that ball to left-center, having a longer at bat, laying off changeups out of the zone and fouling off pitches the way I was doing, I feel like we have quite a few righty starters lined up with the Marlins, so I’m going to get my at bats and hopefully I can continue to do damage.”
Martinez said the work Bell has done behind the scenes is paying off.
“You watch this guy every day work the way he works and how passionate he is about the club and the team, I mean, he was — it was awesome to see him come through like that.”
It’s not just Bell, but the Nationals as a team that have been on a roll in recent weeks, with four wins in a row now and wins in nine of their last ten.
“I’ve said it all along,” Martinez told reporters after Wednesday’s win.
“Even the days when we weren’t quite winning the games that we thought we should win, based on just not getting a hit here or there, and I’d back in my office and I always said, ‘These guys, man, if we can string some hits together and start putting the ball in play, and doing the little things that we’re capable of doing, we’ll start winning some games consistently.”
Will the Nationals make it five in a row in the first of four with the Miami Marlins tonight?
UPDATED NATIONALS’ LINEUP FOR TONIGHT’S GAME WITH THE FISH:
New Nats Lineup:— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 24, 2021
1. Schwarber - LF
2. Turner - SS
3. Soto - RF
4. Zimmerman - 1B
5. Gomes - C
6. Castro - 3B
7. Harrison - 2B
8. Robles - CF
9. Ross - SP