Where Are The Homers:
Before Lane Thomas took Brandon Woodruff deep in the third inning of last night’s game, the Washington Nationals’ 26 home runs as a team were the third-least in the majors.
Juan Soto (8) led the Nationals, while Josh Bell (4) and Nelson Cruz (4) were tied for second, Maikel Franco (3) and Yadiel Hernández (3) were tied for third, and Riley Adams (2), Keibert Ruiz (1), and Thomas (1 before last night) accounted for the other four home runs.
The Nats’ .248 AVG as a team before the start of play on Saturday was tied for 4th best in the majors, but the home runs have not been there over the first two months of the 2022 campaign.
“I think when you get these guys that hit home runs, those things come, and usually come in bunches,” manager Davey Martinez said before the second of three in Milwaukee.
“So for me you’ve got to be ready to hit, stay on the fastballs, but get ready to hit early, and try to get your best swing off at every pitch. It’ll come.
“Soto, Bell, Cruz, even Yadi, Yadi’s known to hit home runs. Those guys will get in a groove and start hitting.”
César Hernández, who hit a career high 21 between Cleveland and Chicago in 2021, hadn’t hit one out for Washington going into last night’s game, but the Nationals’ manager said it would happen eventually, and his .271/.320/.337 line through 40 games was up a bit, from the .232/.308/.386 line he put up last season.
“He hasn’t done it,” Martinez said of Hernández not going deep yet, “and he talked a lot about how differently they’re pitching him and he said it’s probably because he did hit some many home runs last year, but he’s trying to stay on the ball now.
“The other day in Miami he hit a bunch of doubles for us, so I told him, I said, ‘Hey, it’s just a matter of time. It takes some adjustments, but keep trying to get on base for us and the home runs will come.
“Like I told him, I said, ‘We need you to get on base. We need you to hit, hit those doubles, and get on base for the big guys behind you.”
No One Likes To Lose:
They had to stay in the fight in 2019, rallying from a 19-31 start to finish 93-69, get into the Wild Card Game, and eventually win the World Series, but Washington’s Nationals went 26-34 in 2020, and 65-97 in 2021, and going into play on Saturday, they were 13-27 through 40 games of the 2022 campaign.
So how do Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office and Davey Martinez and his staff on the bench keep the club motivated going out there every day?
Well, one, they’re are pro ballplayers, who naturally pretty motivated for the most part, and, Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this past Wednesday, losing is not fun.
“Well, I think no one likes to lose, and we’re not used to this in this organization and in that clubhouse,” he explained, “so it’s something that you always have to be positive, and there’s a lot to be positive about. So I think that you have to extoll the virtues of the positivity of the team and work on the negatives, and try and keep a good mindset, and although our record at the big league level at this early stage of the year is not where we want it to be, there’s a lot of exciting things going on with some of our young big league players and obviously in the minor leagues we’re doing — we’re having a great season so far in the minor leagues, so there’s a lot to be excited about moving forward.
“And the reboot is still in progress and we have a blueprint for it, and we think we’re well on our way to putting together that core group of a championship-caliber club.”
One of the bright spots in the majors in the first two months has been the continued growth of 23-year-old catcher Keibert Ruiz, who started the night on Saturday with a .282/.344/.382 line on the year and a .349/.462/.512 line in 12 games this month, with four doubles, a home run, and eight walks, and he’d hit safely in eight of 12 and reached safely in 10 of 12 as noted by the Nationals in their pregame notes for the second of three in Milwaukee.
His manager talked earlier this week about the progress he’s seen from the catcher behind the plate as well.
“The blocked balls, the game-calling has been the big thing,” that’s stood out, Martinez told reporters.
“I’ve seen some growth in the game-calling, and it’s been awesome,” the manager added.
“He’s been engaged every day. He works hard. He works with [Catching & Strategy Coach] Henry [Blanco], they talk a lot about game-calling. Him and Riley [Adams] sit down every day and talk about game-planning, so... not only Keibert, but Riley too has been doing well.”
Ruiz and Adams (25 years old) were both acquired at last July 30th’s trade deadline, and the duo give the Nationals two young, talented catchers who can grow with the team through their reboot and learn on the job as the club tries to build the next contender in the nation’s capital.
There are going to be mistakes, Martinez said, but there’s plenty to be excited about with the two of them.
“We’ve got to understand that these guys are young,” Martinez said. “It’s Keibert’s first full year in the big leagues, Riley’s as well, and they’re learning a lot, they’re learning a lot about our pitching staff, so what I liked a lot about the last outing with Josiah [Gray] is that he was able to keep his composure in the high-leverage innings, and he worked through it with Josiah and they worked really well together. He could have imploded, we’ve seen him implode a lot of times when they had situations like that, but they — I saw Keibert a lot of times come out and talk to him, kind of settle him down and to get to that was awesome to see.”