Going into Wednesday’s matchup with the Blue Jays in the nation’s capital, Josh Bell was in a bit of an August slump, having gone just 11 for 54 (.204/.279/.352), with two doubles, two home runs, six walks, and eight Ks in 15 games on the month.
With the bases empty following a three-run home run by Juan Soto, Bell sent a fly to left in his first at bat against Toronto starter José Berríos. With Soto on after a walk in the bottom of the third, Bell grounded into an inning-ending double play, 0 for 2.
When Soto took a two-out walk in the home-half of the fifth, Bell sent a fly to center to end the frame, but in the bottom of the seventh, Alcides Escobar singled, Soto walked in a third consecutive plate appearance, and Bell stepped in against left-hander Brad Hand and sent his 20th home run of the season out to right, putting the Nationals ahead 7-5 in what was an 8-5 win in the end.
It was Bell’s 8th HR from the right side this season, and his manager said after the game that he’s been swinging it well against lefties though they need to get his left-hand swing going too.
“He’s swinging the bat well from the right side,” Martinez explained. “He’s still getting out on his front side a little bit on his left-[handed] swing, so we just got to get him to stay back a little bit and try to get the ball up in the air a little bit more. The only reason why he’s hitting balls on the ground is because he’s coming out to his front side early, so we got to get him to stay back left-handed.”
But the big home run, coming as it did after the Blue Jays walked Soto three times in a row rather than left him beat them, was a positive development and a message to other teams that might try the same approach with the Nationals’ 22-year-old slugger.
“It’s huge,” Martinez said, “... and if you think about it, if you look, Josh is quietly having a pretty good year. He’s got 20 home runs, 65 RBIs, after where he started, I said this guy has done a tremendous job for us, he’s hitting like .120 the first month of the season and where he’s at now, he’s done really well.”
Bell’s 1 for 5 game in the nation’s capital left him with a .241/.304/.459 line overall on the year, with a .263/.322/.493 line in 89 games and 322 plate appearances since May 1st, when he started to turn things around after that slow start.
Now his manager just wants to get him going again from the left side.
“He’ll start swinging the bat a lot better left-handed, I know he will,” Martinez said. “His right-handed swing right now is good, so we got to get him going left-handed. But he’s done a great job.
“If they want to walk Soto, I’ll take my chances with Josh Bell, I really will, he’s done awesome protecting Juan.”
HERE’S THE NATIONALS’ LINEUP FOR THE FIRST GAME OF THREE WITH THE BREWERS: