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Washington Nationals trying to get Victor Robles right; knowing what he could bring

Davey Martinez is really happy with the progress Victor Robles is making, while he’s continuing to play solid defense...

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

Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked after Victor Robles’s 0 for 2 game at the plate this past Saturday in Pittsburgh’s PNC Park about seeing some positive signs from the 24-year-old, who has been hard at work trying to get to a better place with the bat in his hands.

Robles went 0 for 2 with a walk and a K (on some questionable called strikes) in Saturday’s loss to the Pirates, but Martinez said he did like some of what he saw from Robles, even if the results weren’t necessarily there.

“He’s staying on top of the baseball, which is good, and I told him, ‘As long as you’re hitting balls like that, they’ll start falling, don’t,’ — I don’t want him to get upset, just keep getting ready to hit and stay on top of the baseball, and those will come,” Martinez said.

Keeping Robles positive, as the club tries to revamp his swing, raising his hands as a first step, with some tweaks to his lower half next on the list for adjustments to his mechanics, means a lot to the Nationals’ manager.

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

“It’s a big change for him,” Martinez explained, “... because he has 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 2022 season 0 for 18, but he connected for his first hit of the season on Sunday, and collected one hit in each game of Tuesday’s doubleheader with the Arizona D-backs in D.C., for a modest, three-game hit streak, which ended with an 0 for 4, 2 K night on Wednesday. But he did make a few spectacular plays out in center field, which his manager saw as another positive sign.

The fact that Robles has remained focused in the field while he’s still working on things at the plate has impressed the Nats’ fifth-year skipper.

“He’s been the same — and one thing, like I said before — we just want him to stick to the process and the results will come, you know,” Martinez said, “but he’s — as you can see — he goes out there, and forget about the hitting, but what he does for us on the defense is phenomenal, and the hitting will come, he just has to stay grounded, stay humble, and continue to work, which he has been doing.”

In his weekly visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning, Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo talked about why the team is investing so much time and energy in getting Robles right, as opposed to moving on and putting someone else out there in center.

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

“He’s putting together better at-bats,” Rizzo said. “He’s a player with a lot of talent, his skill set is there, and I just think that we — hitting is a difficult skill set, and he’s proven that he’s done it at the highest level and he did it very, very well, and I think that he got in some bad habits and I know [hitting coach] Darnell Coles and Davey have worked really hard to kind of tweak his approach and his stroke a little bit. That’s not to say he’s going to go out and get 10 hits in a row right now, but he’s handling pitches he should handle, he’s putting the barrel on the ball more often — he’s had I think 4-5 100+ MPH exit velocities over the last handful of games — not all of them have ended up in hits — but again, putting better at-bats together, you see what he brings in center field when he’s right, and he’s an important player for us. He’s a 24-year-old player that’s got 3 years of big league time under his belt already, and performed at the highest level on a championship caliber club in 2019, so we would be remiss if we wrote him off so soon in his career with so much left in the tank.”

In Thursday’s series finale with the D-backs, Robles went 1 for 3 with a walk and a single in what ended up a 4-3 loss. He walked in his first plate appearance, K’d swinging the second time up, reached on an error the third time he stepped to the plate, and then hit a line drive to right field for a two-out single that extended the ninth and helped set the club up with a bases-loaded opportunity they couldn’t cash in.

“He’s really — he hit a ball to right field today on a line, he hits a double down the line, he’s doing everything that Darnell [Coles] and myself are asking him to do, and he’s starting to reap the benefits,” Martinez said on Thursday night, “so we got to keep him going, because he’s going to be a big part of our lineup, especially if he can flip that lineup over to the top, and the way he plays defense. He saves us runs, and we need him out there, so I’m happy that he’s starting to get his hits, we got to keep him going.”