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Washington Nationals can’t afford to give away outs; Davey Martinez focused on improving defense…

“I always say, we got to get 27 outs, not 30, not 31, so we got to clean those things up.” - Davey Martinez

MLB: Game Two-Arizona Diamondbacks at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Maikel Franco committed three errors in the series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park this past Sunday.

Franco, 29, who signed a minor league deal in D.C. this winter after playing 104 games for Baltimore’s Orioles in 2021 (22 doubles, 11 HRs, .210/.253/.355 line, .962 fld% in 99 games at third base), is not known for his defense, but he fought the ball all day in the 5-3 loss in the fourth of four with the Bucs.

After bobbling a grounder hit his way with a runner on first in the bottom of the second, as he was seemingly thinking double play before cleanly fielding it, Franco rushed a throw and sailed it for two of his three errors on the day, then he booted a ground ball to third base in the first at-bat of what ended up a long sixth starter Patrick Corbin couldn’t escape.

Asked about the first two of his three errors after the game, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said the infielder should have just pocketed the ball after bobbling it, instead of trying to recover to throw it to first.

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

“Once he boots the play like that,” Martinez explained, “… he’s got to determine whether or not he’s got a chance. He’s got to look up and see where the runner is at, if he doesn’t feel like he has a chance, just eat it. But, it’s something that I know [third base and infield coach Gary] DiSarcina is going to talk about with him, just getting down a little early. Some of those balls, the glove wasn’t down, it was behind him a little bit, and he’s just got to get set up a little earlier.”

A run scored in the sixth on a base-loaded, one-out chopper to third Franco fielded cleanly when it got to him, though the high chop delayed receipt of the ball long enough that the Nationals could not turn two, 3-1, and the Pirates added a run on an RBI single later in the inning, 3-2 in the Nationals’ favor, before taking the lead in the bottom of the seventh.

Martinez didn’t put the missed opportunity to turn an inning-ending DP in the sixth on Franco.

“The ball was a high chopper, he had to wait for it to come down, he couldn’t do anything else to get the ball,” he said.

“It was going to be — we knew it was going to be bang-bang at first base.”

In his defense, Franco did make a fairly spectacular backhand stab at third, and a throw from his knee for the final out of the fourth, so it wasn’t all bad for him on the defensive end, and he did go 1 for 3 with a walk in the game (leaving him 11 for 40, .275./302/.425, with three doubles and a home run in 11 games and 43 plate appearances to that point this season).

The fifth and final run of the game for the home team scored on a potential inning-ending DP in the seventh, when Alcides Escobar pivoted and spun around after receiving a throw to second base from Cèsar Hernàndez, resulting in a throw to first which arrived a beat too late upon review.

“The other one, the one that we should have turned where Alcides just spun around like that, that’s uncharacteristic of him.” Martinez said.

“I’ve got to go back and look at that, but to me he’s just got to come through the bag and throw the ball to first base.”

The subpar defense overall for the team had their fifth-year skipper frustrated as the club prepared for the flight back up the nation’s capital for a 10-game homestand.

“The defense was not good today,” Martinez said. “We had a chance to turn double plays, a passed ball with [Steve] Cishek there, if that doesn’t happen we’re playing back, double play ball. So those are the little things we got to clean up. We can’t give teams extra outs, and we’re not going to win games like that. I always say, we got to get 27 outs, not 30, not 31, so we got to clean those things up.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Martinez stressed that he and his staff would continue to hammer the message home, and he said he’d chime in where necessary, while letting his coaches do the jobs they’ve been hired to do.

“I already talked to [bench and infield coach Tim Bogar], I talked to ‘DiSar’, and they’re going to go back, we’ll look at everything, and they’ll get these guys and talk about their feet and their positioning, and all that stuff, and I’ll reiterate throughout the day. I don’t micromanage my coaches, they’re really good at what they do, but we do sit down and talk about it. And then I reiterate with the players throughout the day, and honestly just kind of get them really to just to relax and play the game. You’re not going to be perfect, and I always say that, ‘Don’t be perfect. Just be present every day and be ready. When something happens, be ready.’

“Look, Franco made an unbelievable play there today, he dove, backhand, came up and threw the ball, threw the guy out, so we just got to — like I said — clean up those little things, and make the routine plays, and get outs when we should get outs.”