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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Alex Avila and Patrick Corbin + Josh Bell performing as expected

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Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability on Labor Day...

Avila & Corbin On Labor Day:

Davey Martinez gave veteran backstop Alex Avila his first start since returning after missing 52 games on the IL with bilateral calf strains (with an overlapping stint on the COVID-IL) in Monday’s series finale with the New York Mets. Martinez explained in his pregame Zoom call with reporters that he wanted the veteran backstop to go out there with Patrick Corbin, the struggling, 32-year-old left-hander, to see if their familiarity might help the southpaw as he’s trying to turn things around and finish this season on a positive note.

“Honestly, I scheduled Avila to catch Corbin for the last four or five days. Just to see how — Avila has caught him a bunch before — so I just want to see how it works out and see if we can get Patrick straightened out a little bit here. So I’m interested to see these two guys work together again and see what happens,” Martinez said.

Why did he think the pitcher and catcher’s history in D.C. and Arizona might help?

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“Like I said, it’s just — I know he’s familiar with Alex, he’s caught him a bunch, so I just want to treat this as — I want to make sure that by the time the season ends that Patrick is headed in the right direction. And like I said, he’s throwing the ball well. I think a lot of it is about location, and how he utilizes his pitches. I talk a lot about using both sides of the plate. I want to see that happen today. Hopefully Alex can guide him in that direction.”

Martinez also noted that 23-year-old backstop Keibert Ruiz, who fouled a ball off his own leg earlier in the series with the Mets in D.C., was unavailable.

“He’s going to be day-to-day, he’s got a bone bruise. Haven’t spoken to him, but yesterday he left he was pretty sore, so just want to give him another day and see how he feels after the treatment today,” the fourth-year skipper explained.

Corbin ended up going seven innings in which he allowed 11 hits and three earned runs, but the starter and his manager were both happy with the outing, and the way Avila handled the game.

“Alex did a great job with him,” Martinez said, “... utilizing all of his pitches, and he kept us in the ballgame, which was awesome.”

“He had a couple big calls there I thought, we got some double plays on,” Corbin said, “and I think early on I missed a couple spots, tried to go in and kind of just leaked out over, but pretty much all day we were in sync. I might have shook him once.”

“He’s a veteran catcher back there, he does his homework, and there’s a reason that he’s throwing down those pitches and you trust a guy like that.”

More Catcher Talk — Catcher At 1B Talk:

Martinez talked recently about getting 25-year-old backstop Riley Adams some work at first base so he has options when he has to make in-game moves with his lineup.

On Monday morning in the nation’s capital, the catcher acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline got some work in at first base.

“He’s going to take ground balls today,” the manager said. “It’s just getting him over there and getting him acclimated around the base.

“The biggest thing is we feel like he can go catch ground balls, it’s just his footwork around the base is what [Bench & infield coach Tim Bogar] wants to talk to him about, and how to handle first base.”

New York Mets v Washington Nationals - Game Two Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“We don’t want him to get hurt over there,” Martinez added, “... stepping across the base, somebody running into him, stepping on his ankle or something like that, so we’ll get him used to just catching ground balls and getting to the base and go from there. It will probably take some time, but we want to introduce it to him now so that he has something work with during the winter.”

The Nats’ skipper stressed that this is just about providing options, and not about how they plan to handle the catching duties down the stretch or next season.

“We’ll see how this transition goes this first week and we’ll go from there. I don’t want to jump into things,” Martinez said. “Like I told Riley, ‘Hey, you’re primary position is catching, and you’ve done well. This is only something that if in-game something happens, and say we pinch hit Ruiz, and we can keep you in the game because we can double-switch and we know that we can put you to at first base and we can possibly move Josh Bell to left field, this way we have both catchers still in the game.”

Speaking of Josh Bell:

As the Nationals mentioned in their pregame notes on Monday, Josh Bell went into the fifth of five with the Mets in D.C. having hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games, going 17 for 49 (.347 AVG) with two doubles, four home runs, 10 RBIs, seven walks, and five runs scored over that stretch, while reaching base, “safely in 24 of 56 plate appearances (.429 OBP) and [posting] a .633 slugging percentage,” in those games.

That run of success at the dish, left Bell, who turned 29 on August 14th, at .254/.322/.478 on the season, with 18 doubles and 24 HRs in 119 games and 454 PAs. His .800 OPS on the year this season, would be tied for the second-highest of his career if the season ended Monday.

It would be behind only the .936 OPS Bell posted in 2019, when he put up a .277/.367/.569 line with 37 doubles and 37 home runs in 143 games and 613 PAs with Pittsburgh’s Pirates, who traded him to D.C. this past winter.

“Honestly, I’ve said this many times, he’s been unbelievable. Offensively he’s been great,” the Nationals’ manager said on Monday morning.

And considering Bell has picked it all up after a brutal April which followed a stint on the COVID-IL in his first month with his new team, it’s that much more impressive.

“I can only imagine if he wasn’t ill the first month of the season,” Martinez said, “the kind of numbers he would have put up for us, but since then he’s been incredible.

“I think he’s hitting over .280, his SLG has been astronomical.”

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Martinez was close. Bell hit .275 between May 1st and the end of play on September 5th, but he did post an .850 OPS over that stretch.

“He’s been just the player that we thought we traded for,” Martinez said. “For me he’s had a great year, a great year. Not only that, we talk about how much work he’s put into his defense, and I think we call can see that it’s paid off a lot and he’s been really good over at first base, and that’s huge, especially going into next year knowing that hey, he can play first base and handle it really well, and has done well.”

“How did Bell handle it all, when he was hitting .133 in mid-May?” a reporter asked. [ed. note - “He had a .133 AVG on 5/12. And the reporter’s question is paraphrased for brevity’s sake.”]

“I told him, ‘Hey, you just got to worry about today and worry about one at bat,” Martinez said of his advice for Bell. “‘Don’t worry about what you’re hitting at the end. Believe me, by the time the season is over, you’ll be right where you need to be.’ And I told him all that, and you see now that, potentially, he’s got a chance to drive in 90+ RBIs, get close to 30 homers, but he’s doing well, he’s swinging the bat really well and in the clubhouse he’s been that guy. He’s just [been] everything that we thought he’d be, like I said, he’s been tremendous.”