Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked over the opening weekend about the hard work Victor Robles put in this winter and during Spring Training, as the 24-year-old tries to get his career back on track following two seasons of struggles in 2020-21.
“Defensively, he’s playing much, much better,” Rizzo told reporters as he spoke on the field in the nation’s capital.
“His throwing accuracy has improved, his routes and angles are better. We worked — the coaching staff and [manager] Davey [Martinez] worked hard with his hitting mechanics and I think they’ve made improvements there to free up his swing a little bit and to get him back to that dangerous guy that we saw in 2019.”
As a 22-year-old in his first full season in the majors in 2019, Robles posted a .255/.326/.419 line with 33 doubles and 17 HRs in 55 games and 617 regular season plate appearances.
He also went 9 for 41 with a double, triple, and home run in the postseason that year, on the way to the Nationals’ World Series win.
Considering his age, and the situation the club is in right now, in the early stages of what is being called a reboot, with contention a long shot and development of the organization’s in-house talent a major goal as they assess their assets and try to compete while building the next legitimate contender in the nation’s capital.
Robles has started 3 of 5 games so far this season as he continues to apply all the coaching staff is feeding him, and works on improving all aspects of his game.
He’s 0 for 8 with 4 Ks at the plate, but is playing solid defense so far.
His manager was asked over the past weekend if that impressive defensive play could carry over to the plate if Robles builds confidence overall.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Martinez said after the first win of the season on Sunday. “He’s had — yesterday, he lined out yesterday, but his defense, as you saw yesterday, he’s playing well out there, so it’s good to see. I think his bat is going to come. He’s been working with [new hitting coach Darnell Coles] on trying to stay on top of the baseball, and I see a big difference in the swings, the fact that he’s catching up to fastballs a little bit better than he has in the past, so it’s just a matter of time.”
How long, speaking generally, does it take for the kind of tweaks they’re trying to implement to click for a player?
“You work on it so much in the cage,” Martinez explained, “... but until you actually go in the game and you’re starting to recognize pitches, and trying to — the biggest thing that we tell him is to be ready to hit the fastball. Just be ready to hit the fastball. And then you can make adjustments from there. So that’s always going to be the big thing for him, is just make sure you recognize pitches early, we’re trying to get him to do that a little bit better, but his swing path is definitely a lot better, and he’s getting on time a lot more.”
Robles was out of the starting lineup again last night for the series opener in Atlanta, and Martinez was, of course, asked about the progress Robles is making, and said there are a few positive signs in the first few games’ worth of at-bats.
“So far, I thought they’ve been good,” Martinez said before last night’s matchup with the 2021 World Series champs, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“He’s staying on top of the baseball. You’re not seeing the lazy fly balls. That to me is a good sign. Now it’s making sure he trusts his hands to stay back, see breaking balls better. But he’s really getting on top of the fastballs. I think the fastballs he has hit, he’s hit them well.”
The manager did say that he’d have the center fielder back in the lineup for the next two so he can put what’s he’s been working on to the test in live action.
“He’s going to play, there’s no doubt about it,” Martinez said. “I’m just right now trying to get everybody in the mix. … We worked with him diligently on his swing, and he’s getting better. I just want to make sure he continues to get better. He worked a lot today with Darnell. He’ll be back out there for the next two games.”
And he is.