Josh Bell started last night’s series opener with the Colorado Rockies in Washington, D.C., as the Nationals highlighted in their pregame notes, ranked 10th among NL hitters this season (with a .296 AVG), ranked 9th in OBP (.379), 10th in multi-hit games (with 13 of them), and tied for 11th in hits (with 47 on the year).
Bell, however, after going 16 for 55 (.291/.371/.418) in the first 14 games this month, took the field on Thursday night in a bit of a slump, going just 4 for 30 (.133/.182/.133) in his previous eight games, taking him from a .328/.418/.473 line on the year down to .296/.379/.415 after he’d extended a modest three-game hit streak in the series finale with the LA Dodgers.
Bell’s manger, Davey Martinez, told reporters before last night’s game that the switch-hitting slugger came in for early work before the first of four with the Rockies.
“We brought him out today to hit early,” Martinez said, “and we’re trying to get him back on his back side a little bit better. He started drifting and hitting off his front foot, which he’s so strong that he can get away with it, and one, he’s hitting a lot more line drives. We talked to him about staying behind the ball a little bit better, and getting on his back side.
“Today, during batting practice he really started driving the ball again the way we used to watch him, but hopefully that will help and something will trigger, but he felt a lot better today, so hopefully he’ll get some more balls in the air. We’re trying to get him off the ground. I like the fact that he was not chasing, you know, that’s awesome, but also too we need him to hit, we need him to drive the ball, so we did work with him today.”
Bell had more walks than K’s through his first 40 games this season, before he struck out three times in the previous four before the opener with the Rockies, leaving him with 19 walks versus 21 Ks in 148 PAs overall this season.
The struggles in recent weeks, Martinez said, were a timing issue more than anything.
“I think it’s more of a timing thing,” the fifth-year skipper said. “The more at-bats you get the more — all of a sudden you try to do too much, and it can cause you to get out there on your front foot, instead of saying, ‘Hey look, I got to let the ball travel, I got to hit the ball a little bit deeper,’ and that’s something that we talked to him about today. Not trying to do too much, and something that he’s mentioned, ‘I’m really trying ...’ I said, ‘Hey, less is more.’ Don’t try to be the guy, just be a guy,’ and I said, ‘The homers are going to come, but you can’t force it.
“Just get yourself ready to hit every pitch as hard as you can in the middle of the field, and then go from there.”
Bell’s four home runs through 44 games this season were three fewer than he hit in his first 40 games in April/May last year in his first run with the Nationals following the trade which brought him over from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Christmas Eve 2020.
He just missed hitting his fifth homer of the season when he doubled off the top of the wall to the left of center field and drove in the second of four runs the Nats scored in the home-half of the first. Bell finished the the night 1 for 3 with a run scored and two RBIs.
His manager said he was definitely able to stay back more in his at-bats in what ended up a 7-3 win.
“Yes, absolutely,” Martinez said, “he hit some balls hard, left-handed, and he had a really good at-bat right-handed to drive in a run, which we talked a lot about just staying in the middle of the field when you’ve got a guy on third base and try to get the ball in the air and he did really well at that.”