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The continuing education of Victor Robles

A HBP on his knee ended Victor Robles’s Sunday...

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Victor Robles was out on the field in Miami early on Friday, working out with Washington Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long to try to shorten his swing and keep his hands inside pitches, with a net placed halfway across the plate to enforce the limitations.

“We talked about that,” Davey Martinez explained when reporters wondered about the point of the drill they saw Robles and Long working on. “[Robles] went out there and they did some work today, but one, try to get him inside that baseball, not around the baseball, but like I said, he is walking a lot more, he’s being more consistent now, it’s about when he does take a swing and he fouls the balls back, and he has a good swing, those balls need to get put in play.

“And we’re working on him staying shorter and going directly towards the baseball.”

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Assessing Robles’s season to that point, Martinez said the recently-turned 24-year-old has been making strides at the plate, while picking it back up defensively after a down year in both aspects of his game in 2020’s 60-game season.

“He’s getting better as far as recognizing pitches in the zone, and he’s taking swings at balls in the zone,” Martinez said, and the numbers back him up, with Robles’s O-Swing% (the % of swings at balls out of the zone) down this season (from 34.2% in 2020 to 23.5% before the start of Sunday’s game), with his Z-contact% (contact on pitches in the zone) up so far (from 80.9% in 2020 to 85.8% this year).

Martinez also noted that Robles’s two-strike approach is important, as is, as Nationals beat writer Todd Dybas noted, the first pitch of the outfielder’s at bats:

“As I always say, with two strikes, it’s tough to hit in the big leagues, so when he gets a pitch to hit early in the count, he can’t foul it off, he’s got to put the ball in play,” Martinez said.

“And this is something that we’re constantly talking to him about. You saw him on the field today working, he does the same work in the cage, but they wanted to bring him out in the field to show him how the ball comes off the bat. So, he’s getting it, it’s taking some time, but hopefully he can stay inside those balls, and use the whole field, and get inside the fastballs on the inside part of the plate, and pull the balls a little bit better. So we’re just going to continue to work with him, because we know what his ability can do. He’s an unbelievable outfielder as we all know, he’s an exciting player, so if we can get him on base more and start hitting the ball — and I’m not talking about hitting home runs, I’m just talking about just him putting the ball in play hard, hitting doubles, because I really believe that he’s a 30-40 doubles guy, if we can get him on there he can do a lot for us in the bottom of that order, flip it up to the top.”

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Robles went 0 for 4 with a K later that night, leaving him with a .224/.340/.306 line, a triple, and 13 doubles in 63 games and 217 plate appearances to that point, and he got a day off in Saturday night’s matchup in Miami.

“He’s fine,” Martinez assured reporters who asked if Robles was okay. “Just giving him a day. He took a lot of swings yesterday, earlier, so I just wanted to give him a day today.”

In Sunday’s series finale, Robles was penciled in as the Nationals’ No. 9 hitter, with Martinez explaining that he put him there for the first time since June 9th in the the hope that he’d see a few more fastballs hitting in front of the red-hot Kyle Schwarber as opposed to the pitcher, Max Scherzer.

“I just wanted to get him in there and get him — he’s hitting basically in front of Schwarber, see if we can get him some pitches, get him on base for the top of the lineup again. Just try to get him going,” Martinez said.

“He’s been working really hard. He took a lot of swings the day before yesterday, we talked about that, and I wanted to give him a day off yesterday because he’s worked so much, now he’s back in there today, and I figured let’s see if we can get him some better pitches to hit instead of hitting in front of the pitcher. And see if we can get him on base.”

Robles went 0 for 1 with a walk in the series finale in Miami, but got hit on the left thigh and right knee by an 87 MPH cutter from Marlins’ lefty Ross Detwiler. Robles tested the leg, but left the game after getting hit.

“It’s the back knee yeah. He got X-rays, negative, he’s got a contusion, so he’ll be day-to-day,” Martinez said after the game.

“He’s going to be — I’m assuming he’s going to be stiff tomorrow,” Martinez continued, “so like I said, we’ll see how he comes in tomorrow. I know he got plenty of treatment during the rest of the game, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

As for the continuing efforts to jumpstart Robles offensively?

“He’s been working really hard, we talked about this earlier today, just working on trying to get on top of the baseball a little bit, getting started a little earlier,” Martinez said.

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

“He’s doing a great job of trying to swing at balls in the strike zone, he’s mixing in his walks, now we got to get him to stop missing pitches in the strike zone and fouling them off, and that’s just part of him maybe getting on top of the baseball a little bit, getting set up a little bit earlier, a lot of times he’s a little late, that’s why he fouling balls off, we got to get him ready earlier, so we’re going to continue to work with him, he’s young. My biggest thing with him, and I tell him all the time, I said, ‘You got to focus on the whole game. You’ve got to be a really good defender. You’ve got to play smart, you’ve got to run the bases well, and you’ve got to take your walks. Continue to do that.

“The hitting, you’re going to get it, it’s going to come, but hey, let’s not forget the rest of the game. Because the minute he stops playing defense, I’m going to have to consider doing something else, but he’s been playing really good out there for us, and like I said, he’s been mixing in his walks as well.”