Lost In Translation?:
Davey Martinez has told anyone who’ll listen that Yadiel Hernández can hit. That’s been clear at every level of the game that Hernández has played at, but his defense was something the Nationals’ skipper told the outfielder was extremely important coming into the 2021 season, if he wanted an opportunity to play every day, and as he said on Monday evening’s pregame Zoom call with reporters, Hernández has taken his defensive work seriously and improved in left field in the last year.
“He’s done a lot better from the beginning of the year,” Martinez said.
“We had these conversations in Spring Training where, if he’s going to play in the big leagues, it’s not just one-sided,” the manager explained.
“He’s got to play defense, especially in the National League. There’s no DH here most of the time, and he needs to go out there and learn how to play left field, and also right field.”
The fourth-year skipper had some advice for Hernández too, when they sent him down to Triple-A Rochester at one point, that might have been lost in translation somehow.
[ed. note - “[whispers: ‘“I have to be leaving, but I won’t let that come between us.’”]
“I know — I remember when we sent him back down,” Martinez recalled, “I told him to take some balls in center field, and work on your jumps. He did that, and I got a phone call from [Rochester manager] Matt Lecroy, and [Hernández] went and told Matt that I wanted him to play center field, and I said, ‘No, Matt, I want him to work in center field,’ I said, ‘He’ll play the corners, but I just want him to work on his jumps because there’s a lot more balls during batting practice in center field.
“[Hernández] did that, and he has gotten better, and the good thing about Yadi is that he asks a lot of questions all the time about where to play as far as left-handed hitters, guys that he deems are guys that might slash the ball down the left-center field line, can he cheat a little bit more that way. And my thing with him is wherever we tell you to play is a starting point.
“If you think the guy is a little bit later, and you need to cheat a little more over towards the line, then go ahead, and he’s been actually pretty good about that.”
Kieboom’s Improving Too:
Carter Kieboom went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored against Cincinnati on Sunday, connecting for two of the three hits that Reds’ starter Tyler Mahle allowed in six innings on the mound in a 9-2 win for the home team. Kieboom’s manager talked with reporters after the game about some adjustments the 24-year-old infielder has made at the plate in recent days.
“Yeah, we tried to slow him down a little bit and told him just to try to hit singles, and stay up the middle of the field, and he did well,” Martinez said after Kieboom lined a double to left field, off the wall, then singled to right for his second hit, before lining out to center in his final plate appearance of the night, on a well-struck ball that was caught.
“He took a ball — I loved the swing where he hit the ball the other way, and then the last swing where he just tried to stay up the middle of the field and the guy made a nice play, but all those swings today were a lot better, and he needs to continue do that for the next week.
“Just slow his feet down and not try to do too much, and like I said, just put the ball in play and try to drive the ball up the middle.”
Kieboom, a 2016 1st Round pick, was supposed to be the starting third baseman in D.C. from the start this season, but he struggled at the plate in Spring Training, after a rough 2020 campaign, and only got the opportunity to play regularly in the majors again following the club’s fire sale at July 30th’s trade deadline.
While he’s still a work in progress at the plate, with a .215/.305/.333 line, five doubles, six home runs, 21 walks, and 55 Ks in 54 games and 223 plate appearances since he came back to the majors and started playing regularly in late July, Martinez said before Monday’s game with the Rockies in Colorado’s Coors Field that he’s seen significant improvements in Kieboom’s game this season. Where has he seen the biggest improvements?
“You know, a couple things,” Martinez said. “His defense has definitely improved. You know, for me, like I said, he’s only been playing that position for a short time, he has gotten better. Of course, he’s got to continue to work and get better, but I’ve seen that better, and also, even though his numbers don’t say it, his at-bats have been a lot better, they really have, and the other day, after missing a couple of days, I thought he had a really good day at the plate, he hit three balls pretty good, got a couple hits, and for me it was more effortless, his at-bats the other day, and I’m going to talk to him today about that, just a lot more — less effort, talking about him jumping at the ball, just staying back, using your hands a little bit, and just trying to hit the ball up the middle.
“I had the same conversation with [Kyle] Schwarber when we moved him to leadoff, just try to hit singles, and I told [Kieboom] yesterday, and he had a good day, so I’m going to reiterate that to him, just go up there and just try to hit singles and get on base and good things will happen.”
In the top of the ninth inning last night, Kieboom, who was 0 for 2 with a walk to that point, got up 2-1 on Rockies’ reliever Carlos Esteves, took a fastball for a called strike too, and he then dropped the leg kick, planted his foot, in a nice two-strike approach, and hit an oppo single to right field to get on before eventually scoring the fifth run of the game for the Nats in what ended up a 5-4 win when the Rockies rallied to make it a one-run game in the ninth.
“I love that at-bat,” Martinez said after the win. “He spit on a ball and went the other way, something I talked about with him the other day, and like I said, I talked to him before the game today, about just hey, trying to hit singles and stay on the baseball, and move the ball with two strikes, and he came through in a big moment right there.”
And What About Luis?:
Luis García, who’s still just 21 years old, was up and down between Triple-A and the majors over the first few months of the season, but he too, like Kieboom, came up in late July and got an opportunity to play every day after the trade deadline moves the Nationals made. He’s had some more success at the plate than Kieboom, with a .242/.270/.420, 17 doubles, six home runs, eight walks, and 36 Ks in 56 games and 215 PAs since late July, and a .271/.286/.490 line, with 10 of his 17 doubles since late July, and three of his six homers in that stretch over the last month.
What has Martinez seen from the young second baseman? He pointed first to the splits we noted recently for García, who started the three-game series in Denver, CO’s Coors Field at .212/.249/.388 versus right-handed pitches on the year, and .317/.339/.483 vs lefties in his second major league season, with the infielder putting up a .326/.388/.674 line against left-handed pitchers, and a .293/.364/.566 line vs right-handers in the minors this season, after he had a .323/.356/.444 vs righties in 2020’s 60-game campaign, with a .143/.143/.143 line versus lefties.
“He’s definitely getting better at second base,” the manager said. “You know, the biggest thing, as we see, his numbers against lefties have been way better, and he’s staying in there a lot better against lefties. We’d like to see him do that more against right-handed pitchers.”
The issue for the left-handed swinging García vs righties this season?
“He often tries to get really quick against right-handed pitchers,” Martinez said, “... so we want to probably have him utilize more the middle of the field.
“When he does that he’s really good, so but it’s going to be a continuing work in progress, but they are getting better.”
And how have his young charges handled things since they’ve been up and playing on an every day basis since late July?
“They’ve been great, and like I said, they got an opportunity to play every day, I told them they were going to be out there and if they need a day, they’ll get a day, but I wanted to give them a chance to play, and they’ve handled it really well. They’re good kids, and they play hard, and they play for their teammates, and I love everything about those guys, I really do. They come ready to play every day, and regardless of the outcome, they show up the next day and they’re ready to play again.”