Josh Bell started his 2021 season late, after he was caught up in the COVID outbreak which hit the Washington Nationals before the season opener, and he struggled out of the gate in a .113/.200/.264, two double, two home run month of April in which he took five walks and struck out in 17 of 60 plate appearances.
By May though, the 28-year-old slugger was sorting things out.
Bell put up a .264/.312/.483 line in 93 PAs in May, hitting four doubles and five home runs, with six walks and 22 Ks, and in June, he was barreling balls up with more frequency and producing like he was expected to when the Nationals acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates this past winter, with a .282/.363/.521 line, five doubles, nine walks, and 17 Ks in 80 PAs.
In a 16-game stretch between June 14th and July 6th, when Bell hit a home run in Petco Park from the right side of the plate in the Nationals’ 7-5 win over the San Diego Padres, he had a .360/.448/.640 line, with two doubles, four home runs, and more walks (8) than Ks (6) in 58 PAs.
What was different for Bell over the latest stretch, (which was overshadowed somewhat by the kind of numbers teammate Kyle Schwarber was putting up, before Schwarber injured his right hamstring)? Bell said it was just the hard work he’s been putting in paying off for him.
“I think that the work day and just having games underneath my belt,” he explained in a post game Zoom call on Monday night from San Diego. “Just being on time, every AB, for the fastball, I know that things have changed with the stick a little bit, so I think that pitches aren’t as nasty as they once were a few months ago, so I feel like there’s a difference there and then just for me personally I feel like I’m in a decent place to drive the baseball, put the ball in play, so I feel like there’s multiple facets to why.”
His manager’s take on Bell’s surge?
“We said it before, I never really look at the numbers in April,” Martinez said on Monday night/Tuesday morning.
“It’s what they do at the end of the year. You look at those numbers, and we knew, he had a slow April, because like I said, the pandemic hit him, and it took him a while to get going, and now he’s just out there having fun, playing baseball, and I keep having to reiterate how well he’s doing on defense and just playing the game. I watch him, and when he hits ground balls this guy runs hard to first base, he plays the game the right way and I love it.”
Bell said he still isn’t where he really wants to be, and he knows he has a lot of work to do to recover from his rough start.
“I mean, I still have a lot of ground to make up over that first month, but I still think if I can get hot for three or four weeks, then I can look up at the scoreboard and feel like I’ve accomplished something,” he said. “But I still don’t think I’m near that now, but at the end of the day, as long as we’re winning games we’re going to be happy, we still have the division to fight for, and that’s the main focus right now.”