Washington Nationals’ closer Kyle Finnegan issued a leadoff walk to Pete Alonso in the first at bat of the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday night, in the series opener with New York’s Mets in Citi Field, but the reliever got a ground ball up the middle from Francisco Lindor in the next at bat that Nats’ second baseman García dove on, before making a backhand toss, or a “bounce pass” as a reporter called it, from his stomach to get the ball over to Alcides Escobar at second in time for a force and out No. 1.
“You call it a bounce pass, I thought he was bowling for a strike,” manager Davey Martinez joked after the Nationals’ win over their NL East rivals.
García handled the next play as well, fielding another grounder up the middle, off of Javier Bàez’s bat, and stepping on second before throwing to first to complete a game-ending 4-3 double play.
“The first one seemed like it was slow motion,” Finnegan told reporters when asked about the diving and double plays by García that ended the game.
“Seemed like it took forever to get there,” the closer continued, “... and couldn’t tell if he was going to get there, made a great play, and then had enough time to bowl a strike to second base to get the out, so that was awesome.”
García’s poise on the plays caught his manager’s attention.
“In a spot like that,” Martinez said, of the quick-thinking, reaction play to roll the ball over to second base, “... that’s a really great play. I mean, he got down, got the ball, and tried to get rid of it as soon as possible.”
Before Saturday’s game, Martinez was asked if he’d gone back to look at the play, and what he thought of it a day later.
“It’s a great play in a big moment where we’re up a run,” the skipper said.
“The fact that he just stayed with it and was able to get the ball to Escobar was awesome.”
The fourth-year skipper said he also appreciated the energy the 21-year-old infielder brings to the club.
“He does play with a lot of energy, he wants to play, he loves playing, but he’s been a lot of fun, he’s been a lot of joy,” Martinez said.
“I’ve got some gray hairs from him, but it’s fun to put him out there and watch him play.”
It’s also fun to watch the young kids who are the core of the rebooting club grow and build on the talent they have, and Martinez said he’s seen growth from García in his second run in the majors after he debuted in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign.
“I notice now that he’s following the game plan a little bit better,” Martinez explained, “... as far as defensive positioning.
“We don’t have to constantly move him, he’s paying a lot more attention, especially coming into a new series you constantly see him moving out there.
“And I told him, I said, ‘Sometimes for me, you’ve got to understand the game, learn how to play the game when you’re on the field.’ And I said, ‘So, if we put you somewhere, and you see something in a swing where you think I might have to move over five steps, do it,’ and he’s actually been doing it and he’s been pretty good at it.”
With the franchise where it is now, coming off the fire sale at the trade deadline which saw them trade away seven expiring contracts and a year-plus of Trea Turner, it’s all about the core of the roster learning on the job and continuing to grow.
“Like I said, it’s a learning process for all these young guys, and I’m seeing progress, every time they go out there I’m seeing a little more confidence.”
“Obviously [García] wants to hit the ball better,” Martinez said, with the infielder 25 for 113 (.221/.267/.372) with six doubles, a triple, three home runs, seven walks, and 22 Ks thus far over 38 games and 120 PAs going into Friday’s matchup.
“But he’s hitting the ball hard, he gets good at bats, sometimes he gets a little bit out in front of himself a little bit and we have to tell him, hey, you know, he’s so good at using the other side of the field, that we want him to focus on staying in the middle of the field, and I said, the power is going to come, but as you know, he can drive the ball to left-center field as well, so, and yesterday he hit a ball yesterday to left-center field and that’s kind of what we want him to do, just stay on the ball and just do the little things, and he’s learning and he’s getting better at it.”