For the first time since August 1st and the sixth time overall this season, Davey Martinez hit Luis García fifth in the Washington Nationals’ lineup in Thursday night’s series opener with the Cincinnati Reds in Great American Ball Park. García, 21, was coming off a 6 for 14 series in Miami in which he hit two doubles and a home run, and was in the midst of a nice run in September, with a .272/.289/.506 line, eight doubles, three home runs, two walks, and 11 Ks in 22 games and 83 plate appearances on the month coming out of the series win over the Marlins.
“Yeah, obviously he’s swinging the bat a lot better,” the Nats’ skipper said before the series opener with the Reds.
“I wanted to push him up against right-handed pitching and see how he reacts to it, but you know, once again, I’ll have a conversation with him about, ‘Hey, the biggest thing is staying in the strike zone.’
“‘You’re hitting balls hard when they’re in the strike zone, so stay in the strike zone and try to go up there and if you don’t get good pitches to hit take your walks.’
“So we’ll see how he reacts to it, but I’m looking forward to him, and watching him up there, and hopefully we get some guys on base for him, and see if he can drive in some runs.”
García came up with two on and two out the first time up against Reds’ starter Luis Castillo, and chased a first-pitch fastball out of the zone, flying out to left field to strand two, and he lined out to center on a 1-2 changeup low in the zone, over the middle, his second time up, stranding two more runners.
In the sixth, he popped up to the catcher on a first-pitch fastball up out of the zone in his final plate appearance against Castillo, then he K’d looking at a 2-2 slider from Luis Cessa, with a runner on in front of him each time, leaving him 0 for 4 with a K and six left on base.
“Yeah, his swing yesterday got a little bigger,” García’s manager said after a 3-2 win in the opener with the Reds.
“Typical of a young kid moving up in the lineup,” Martinez continued, “so he’s batting there again today and I talked to him earlier today about just staying under control, and just continue to work the field, he’s done very well at that. You know, and stay in the middle of the field, but don’t change anything. Just because you’re hitting fifth doesn’t mean a whole lot. I said, ‘Honestly, it’s only for your first at-bat, after that you come up third, you come up leading off, and there’s different scenarios of the game.’”
García finished the night with a .221/.264/.298 line with men on for the season, and his 0 for 2 game with runners in scoring position left him with a .286/.333/.375 line in 60 PAs w/ RISP overall on the year, which is something Martinez said he wanted his young infielder to focus on going forward.
“The biggest thing I want him to do is when he does get runners in scoring position, as we all know, he’s very aggressive, be aggressive in the strike zone and stay in the middle of the field, and don’t try to do too much,” he explained.
“And that’s the biggest thing for a young player. All of a sudden you move him around and he thinks that he’s got to drive in the runs. I told him, just be yourself and don’t try to do a whole lot.”
García’s 0 for 4 night, against all right-handers, left him with a .211/.250/.388 line in 160 PAs vs RHPs in 2021, versus a .310/.333/.483 vs left-handers in 60 PAs, for some reverse splits in his second season in the majors.
The difference there from what his manager has seen?
“Yeah, against right-handers — well, let’s go against left-handers, against left-handers he’s staying on the ball,” Martinez said, “and everything middle-in, he’s really hitting hard.
“But he’s actually staying a lot better on the ball. Against right-handers, he just comes off the ball a little bit quicker. He sees the ball, obviously he sees the ball a lot better.
“Lefties, he waits a really long time to make a decision to swing, and it’s been helping him out. And we want him to do that as well with right-handed [pitchers].
“He gets up there against right-handed [pitchers] and he sees the ball so well that sometimes he just gets a little bit ahead of himself. And that’s going to come.”
In 37 games at Triple-A Rochester this season, García had a .326/.388/.674 line against left-handed pitchers, and a .293/.364/.566 line vs right-handers, after he had a .323/.356/.444 line in 104 PAs vs righties in 2020’s 60-game campaign, and .143/.143/.143 line in 35 versus lefties.
“He’s got really good bat-to-ball skills,” Martinez added.
“He doesn’t strike out much, he puts the ball in play, so now it’s just trusting his hands, and waiting back, and getting ready for each pitch.”
“So, and that will come. But he’s made some tremendous strides, he really has.
“As we all know, I think he’s going to hit — for me, he could be a 40-double guy, 15-20 home run guy, but he’s definitely got a lot better.”
García was 0 for 3 with a K against Reds’ righty Sonny Gray last night, and he popped out in an eighth inning at bat against right-handed reliever Lucas Sims, before he stepped up with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, with the Nationals down by two, and singled off of Mychal Givens, another right-hander, driving in two runs to tie it up before the Nationals lost in extras.
He got another at bat with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the eleventh, but hit a sharp grounder to first that Reds’ first baseman Joey Votto handled for out No. 3.
García finished the night 1 for 6 with a strikeout, two RBIs, and five left on base.
His manager liked what he saw in the ninth inning hit.
“That was awesome,” Martinez said. “Good at-bat, he stayed on the ball and hit it the other way hard, and he came up again with the bases loaded, and he smoked that ball right to Votto. He had some good at-bats, that’s good.”
“In a moment like that,” García said in his own post-game Zoom call with reporters.
“I’m just trying to focus on waiting and picking out my pitch. Early in the count he didn’t throw my pitch, and I fell behind in the count, but with two strikes, I was just trying to battle, put the ball in play, hit the ball hard somewhere, and I was able to do that and fortunately help the team out in that situation.”
Unfortunately, the game ended on a hard-hit, one-hop grounder to second that bounced off García’s glove and out into right field for a game-winning hit by Aristides Aquino, that drove in the free runner from second.
“It was particularly difficult,” García said of the play on the grounder.
“Especially since I was trying to cover the runner and keep him close to second base, and as I took my two shuffles to my left, I looked at the hitter, and the ball was hit sharply, and it was hit to my left side, and I just tried to put a glove on it and stop it, and unfortunately it just got a little bit of the glove, and it came off, and I wasn’t able to make the play.”