Following their third straight loss to start the 2022 campaign, Davey Martinez talked about the need to get the bottom of the Washington Nationals’ batting order going. It wasn’t the only issue in the first series of the season, but their struggles stood out for the manager in the matchup with the New York Mets in the nation’s capital.
“In the first three games, obviously it hasn’t gone well, but it’s still early. It’s still early. I think these guys will click, they’ll start jelling, and they’ll start hitting. [Alcides] Escobar, [Maikel] Franco, — they all left — Escobar, Franco especially, was swinging the bat well when we left Spring Training, we come here, it’s been a little bit cold, it’s been raining, it’s been — so it’s different. [Franco is] playing in front of new fans, so we just got to get him to relax a little bit. I think these guys right now — some of them could be trying too hard, swings are getting big, and so we just got to reiterate, ‘Hey, just do the little things, and then cut down your swing, especially with two strikes.’ We told them we want to cut down our strikeouts, that’s the biggest thing, and put the ball in play.
“[Hitting coach Darnell Coles] was going to talk to everybody today, and let them know, hey, let’s just start moving the baseball, be on time, and just see what happens, put the pressure on the other team.
“But you can’t do that when you’re striking out, so we’re going to try to put the ball in play.”
The fifth-year skipper was asked if Escobar and Lane Thomas, in particular, were affected at all by a move to the bottom of the batting order, after they ended the 2021 campaign at the top in D.C., but he said it was something they addressed with both of the players.
“So we’ve had conversations with both about how we perceive what they’re going to do,” he said, “... and for Alcides, he doesn’t really care, and he’s a veteran guy and he reiterated to me what I always tell them, that after the first inning, you’re just a hitter. He said that to me, which is kind of cool, he understood that.”
And Thomas, who started the season 0 for 7 with four Ks in the three games he played in the opening series. Martinez said it was a timing thing with the 26-year-old outfielder.
“And for Lane,” he explained, “it’s just because he’s hit in the middle of our lineup, my big thing for him, ‘Hey, don’t change who you are. You were aggressive. Even in the top of the order, you hit fastballs really well. Now, he’s just late. He’s — we watched his video this morning, and he’s just late getting to the fastballs. He’s got to be ready on time, so once he does that, I told him, ‘You’re not there to hit home runs, believe me, you just make hard contact like you’ve done in the past, and hit the ball all over the field.’’
Thomas got the message.
“He understands that,” Martinez told reporters. “I said, ‘There’s no difference between —’, because I said, ‘How many times have you come up, when you led off, with guys on base?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, how many times did you drive them in?’ He goes, “I drove them in.’ I go, ‘That’s my point.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t matter where you hit, with guys on base, just hit. Don’t worry about hitting home runs, just hit the ball.’”
But first, Martinez said, he needed to get his timing down.
“So, I think now it’s just the fact that — even last night he said that he was late. Especially when the ball is away. He’s taking a lot of fastballs away, where last year he was driving those balls, and it’s just the fact that right now he’s says, ‘I’m really late. I’m seeing the ball late, and I can’t react — I can’t pull the trigger.’ So, we got to get him to be earlier.”
Thomas K’d swinging the first time up on Monday, and he did strike out three times in the game, but he was 2 for 5 overall, with three runs driven in, after he hit a two-run double in the third, and an RBI single in the seventh.
“We just told him to get ready on time, be ready earlier and be on time to hit the fastball,” Martinez said, when asked what, if anything, changed for Thomas last night.
“Don’t look for anything else but the fastball, so he got a big hit for us, hit that double, which was awesome and got us going.”
Franco, who started the season 1 for 13 with four Ks in the first four games, went 4 for 5 with a two-run home run in the third inning last night, his first this season, and three-run double in the eighth, for five runs driven in overall on the night in the Nationals’ 11-2 win.
“He was staying through his swings, he was finishing and staying on the ball, which is good, and he was aggressive, and didn’t chase, and I know Darnell [Coles] has been talking to all our hitters about [how] our chase rate the first series was bad, and we wanted to come here and not chase balls, get the ball in the strike zone and really be ready to hit the fastball, and they did that well today,” Martinez said.
Even with an 0 for 5 night from Escobar, who hit ninth, the Nationals’ 6-9 hitters combined to go 8 for 18 with six runs driven in the opener of the three-game set in Truist Park.
That obviously makes a big difference, Martinez said.
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” he repeated. “And we’re going to need those guys. They’re just as important as the first four or five guys we’ve got in the lineup, but like I said, I think Darnell and [Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler] have done a great job of talking to them as a group about what we need to do and what we need to do to get better, and they took it to heart today, the chases were down, we saw I think 200 pitches today, so that’s pretty awesome.”