While the decision to option Victor Robles to Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday afternoon was the big (baseball-related) story in the nation’s capital, the decision to give Lane Thomas an opportunity to play every day down the stretch is a big deal as well.
“I want to see Lane play,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters on Monday, 24 hours before the decision on Robles was announced, and after he penciled Thomas in as the center fielder for the third straight game, “... and he’s swung the bat well, so I want to continue to watch him play a little bit.”
Thomas was out in center again and leading off for the fourth straight game and the eighth time in the last ten.
Since joining the organization in a deadline deal with St. Louis that sent veteran left-hander Jon Lester to the Cardinals, Thomas is now 14 for 46 (.304/.407/.457) with five doubles and a triple, eight walks and 11 Ks in 14 games and 54 plate appearances.
“Since Lane has been here he’s done well,” Martinez said before Tuesday’s game.
“He’s really worked good at bats,” the manager continued. “He’s hit, he’s taken some good walks, so right now he’s earned the right to be out there and playing. I mean, he’s done well, he’s played real good center field, so like I said, I want to continue to give him the opportunity. I heard a lot about Lane from St. Louis guys, and I’m starting to realize that he’s potentially a really, really good baseball player, he understands the game well, so he’s just getting an opportunity right now to play.”
He’ll get even more of an opportunity to play now that Robles has been optioned out to the Nationals’ top affiliate. Thomas wants to take advantage it. How is he going to do it?
“I think just put some work in and make sure I’m just ready to play every day,” he said.
“Making sure the body feels good, and just appreciate the opportunity.”
He feels good at the plate right now, Thomas said.
He debuted in the majors with the Cardinals in 2019 with a .316/.409/.684 line in 34 games and 44 plate appearances.
Over 84 games and 142 PAs in two-plus seasons with St. Louis, after the Cardinals acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays (who drafted him in the fifth Round in 2014) for international bonus slot money back in 2017, Thomas put up a combined .172/.289/.336 line, but he’s had a nice run early in his time with the Nationals, which he said was a result of getting regular at bats at Triple-A in the Cards’ system before the deal.
“I think it’s just the consistency of at bats,” he explained. “When I was with the Cardinals I was only taking a couple of at bats a week, and then got the opportunity to go play in Triple-A and kind of get my feet back under me. So before I came here I was playing every day and then got to play in [Triple-A] Rochester before I got activated, so I think it’s just getting the consistent at bats every day has helped out. Let’s just hope it keeps going that way.”
“It is a great opportunity,” Martinez said of the shot Thomas is getting in D.C.
“Like I said, since we’ve had him he’s played really well, and I’m going to continue to watch him and see how he plays every day. And he’s getting an opportunity to play every day.”
Considering he went from struggling with the Cardinals, and playing at Triple-A for St. Louis, to starting in center and leading off for the Nationals, it’s been quite a month for Thomas.
“I think when you look at it like that,” he told the reporter who framed it that way after a 1 for 4 night at the plate in which the center fielder doubled and took a walk on Tuesday night. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard it said, I guess that is kind of a crazy little turn of events, but at the end of the day I think I always knew I could play, it’s just getting the opportunity and running with it. So, I hope, obviously I’m going to get to play a little bit more, and just keep grinding it out every day, and just taking good at bats, and trying to win games.”