Not bad for a guy who’s never played left field before last month.
Josh Bell turned in one of the night’s defensive highlights, robbing Miami’s Lewis Brinson of a home run in the second inning of the Washington Nationals’ 8-7, 10-inning loss to the Marlins, making a leaping catch at the fence, 382 feet from home plate.
Bell also continued his hitting pace with a fifth-inning double, coming around to score on a 1-for 4-night.
Prior to the game, Bell had been slashing .276/.373/.542 since the All-Star break.
“[Bench coach Tim Bogar] asked if I’d ever robbed a home run,” Bell told reporters afterward.
“I feel like it was something that I practiced in high school. I don’t think I got one in high school. I can’t remember anything in the minor leagues. Definitely didn’t rob anything at PNC playing right field — that would have been something spectacular there. So I was happy to get that first one out of the way.”
Bell was an outfielder in Pittsburgh's minor league system and played 16 games in right in his rookie season of 2016 before becoming a full-time first baseman through the first four months of this season, with 584 career games at first.
With limited recent experience playing the outfield, Bell was playing deep anyway in Washington, and he was giving himself plenty of extra room in Miami’s spacious loanDepot park.
The Marlins were teeing off on Nats’ starter Erick Fedde’s breaking ball, and on the first at-bat of the second inning, Brinson barreled Fedde’s 3-2 curveball toward the ballpark’s generous left field alley.
Bell was playing about 10 steps in front of the warning track, and immediately retreated to the fence, where he twisted to his left, then his right, and timed his jump perfectly to snag the ball about a foot above the fence.
“I knew he hit it well, but I thought he hit it maybe a little too high,” Fedde told reporters afterward. “Watching Josh get back there to the wall, it was, I guess, really nice to see a very large human up against that wall.
“Any time someone can save a run for you that’s awesome, and especially somebody who’s maybe not that familiar with left field, so that really fired me up for him and especially for me.”
Bell also fielded Joe Panik’s sixth-inning fly ball to left and cleanly fielded Eddy Alvarez’s double off the wall in the seventh before recording the final two outs of the inning. He caught Jazz Chisholm’s sacrifice fly and made a strong throw that was about six feet in front of the plate, allowing Alvarez to score.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He got behind it and threw the ball home, Alvarez is fast, but he got behind the ball and threw it really well, so he played well out there.”
After the tying run scored on Alcides Escobar’s fielding error, Bell charged in to make a running catch on Diaz’s fly ball for the third out.
Martinez said Bell and coach Bobby Henley worked on Bell’s positioning before Monday’s game.
“He has to understand to get back behind the baseball as soon as it’s hit in the air,” Martinez told reporters in his pregame Zoom call. “Play everything out front. The biggest thing, as I told Josh, is make sure that your head is behind the ball. When you do that, you’ve got a very good chance to catch the ball.”
Martinez first mentioned the possibility of Bell playing the outfield on July 8, weeks before the trade-deadline selloff and Juan Soto’s knee strain that actually first necessitated the move.
The Nats’ skipper was looking for a way to keep Bell’s hot bat in the lineup when veteran slugger Ryan Zimmerman plays first base.
”Actually, it would be nice if I could get them both in the lineup together, so you might see Josh Bell playing a little bit of left field. He’s been getting some work out there, he’s done it before, so who knows,” Martinez said at the time.
“We’re going to try to be creative, try to get the best lineup we can out there, but we’ll see what happens.”
So on August 8, with Soto resting a sore knee, Bell played right field for the first time since 2016, turning in error-free defense and going 1-for-5 in a 5-4 loss in Atlanta.
Bell played left field for the first time in his career on August 30 against the Phillies, going 2-for-4 with a double and again playing errorless defense.