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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Victor Robles at the plate; Alcides Escobar caught stealing 3B + more

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability on Tuesday...

Victor Robles Project:

Kevin Long, who worked with Victor Robles over four years in the nation’s capital before he signed on to become the Philadelphia Phillies’ hitting coach this past winter, said whoever replaced him had a tough job ahead of them in trying to get the 24-year-old outfielder back on track after two seasons of struggles in 2020-21.

“Victor Robles, with the Nats, underperformed for us,” Long said, in discussing what it’s like to work with hitters who are either underperforming or exceeding expectations.

“That was going to be a big project, and it is for the next guy that steps in there, because you want him to rebound.”

Davey Martinez and the hitting coach who did replace Long, Darnell Coles, have focused all spring on getting Robles back to his 2019 form, when he played center for the World Series champion Nationals and held his own throughout the regular and postseason.

It’s been a long struggle for Robles, but his manager said before the first game of two with the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday that the center fielder has handled it all well.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

“He’s been awesome,” Martinez said. “He really has, through this whole process, and it’s a change — it’s a big change for him, because he’s always hit with his hands lower, but we’re taking it step-by-step. We’ve got his hands up now, and we’re going to start talking about his lower half a little bit. But he’s been great, and I have told him, ‘Hey, there’s going to be days where I don’t want you to play, you know, but you might have to play, you might have to come in and play defense, you might have to ... but we want to get you right, and I really believe that he’s trending in the right direction.”

Robles started the season 0 for 18 in eight games, with Martinez using him carefully, and at times keeping him out of the lineup so Coles can work with the outfielder, but he said he is seeing positive signs, with Robles picking up an RBI single for his first hit of the year in PNC Park over the weekend and going 1 for 3 with his first extra-base hit, an RBI double he hit in the Nats’ 6-1 win over Arizona last night in D.C.

“Awesome,” Martinez said of Robles coming up with another RBI hit.

“Like I said, he’s working hard, and it’s good to see him get rewarded with a double after all the work he’s put in. I think one at-bat, the pitch they called a strike on him was ... not very good, and the last at-bat the guy came back with a sinker away, caught the plate, so ... but he’s having good at-bats, he’s seeing pitches, his swings are a lot better. He’s missing some balls now ... but like I said, keep swinging, swings are good. I really like where he’s at, and I think he’s only going to get better.”

Robles went 1 for 3 with a run scored and a strikeout in the Nationals’ 1-0 win in the second game of the doubleheader.

Martinez OK With Alcides Escobar CS At 3B W/ Soto Up:

The initial reaction to Alcides Escobar getting thrown out at third with two down and Juan Soto at the plate (in a two-strike count against D-backs’ lefty Madison Bumgarner) in the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader, was predictably negative, with plenty of, “You’re already in scoring position at second,” and some “Don’t make the first out or last out at third,” logic, which has prevailed in baseball for some time, not to mention the taking the bat out of Soto’s hands part of it, but when Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez was asked after the game about Escobar’s decision-making on the play, he didn’t criticize his infielder. Quite the opposite, actually.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

“I liked it,” Martinez said. “Two strikes. [Madison] Bumgarner is tough on lefties, he’s really tough with two strikes on lefties, you know, and I know Juan is a good hitter, but he gave Juan another — if he makes it, great, if he doesn’t — he gave Juan another opportunity to get up there and start fresh. So, and we had a big inning after that, and we scored some runs, so I don’t mind it, I really don’t, especially against that guy, who was pitching pretty good.”

It ... wasn’t Martinez’s call for Escobar to run though. “That was his,” Martinez told reporters.

“Like I said, he just didn’t have a very good jump,” the skipper explained.

“He could have went a lot earlier, something we’ll talk to him about, but for me at least he was heads up.

“We talked about it before the game that Bumgarner can be a little slow from second base, so pay attention and be ready.”

Breathe Through Your Eyelids:

Davey Martinez has talked often this season about some of his starters needing to take a deep breath and settle themselves down on the mound, when they get into any of those high-leverage situations which tend to make the pulse pound and the heart race. It’s one thing pitchers and hitters alike need to work on if they’re going to make it in the majors...

“We talk a lot about the mental aspect of the game,” Martinez explained, “not only hitting, but [pitching] as well, pitching and hitting both, and for me it’s very important. Especially when you’re young. Learn how to control your heartbeat. We’re trying to teach these guys to do that on the mound. Because I played the game a long time, and in situations where you have the bases loaded, or you have a chance to drive in a winning run, man, your heartbeat starts going, and you’ve got to learn to control yourself and stay in the moment.”

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

Josiah Gray, in particular, is someone Martinez has talked to about controlling the mental aspect of the game.

“We talk a lot about that, and he understands. He’s trying to learn. He’s understanding what we mean, and he tells me sometimes, ‘Man, my heart was racing,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, those are the times where you got to really tell yourself, “I’m going to step back here, and take a couple deep breaths,” and understand it’s only one pitch, just focus on that one pitch and then we’ll go from there.”

“I tell him that because he does tell me, ‘Hey, I get — sometimes I can feel myself just ...’ and I said, ‘Hey, one pitch. That’s all you got to worry about is throwing one pitch at a time.

“‘You can’t throw three pitches with one pitch, right? Just make that one pitch and see what happens and we’ll go from there.’”