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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez talks Joe Ross, second TJS; Lane Thomas and Nelson Cruz heating up + more

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

Joe Ross - TJS No. 2:

Joe Ross and the Washington Nationals were hoping the 29-year-old right-hander, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, then suffered a partial tear of the UCL in his right elbow in ‘21, would be able to avoid a second TJS. But after rehab, and surgery to remove a bone spur, a second Tommy John surgery was recommended when he was shut down with tightness in his elbow after just one start in the minors this season.

On Friday, Ross went under the knife again.

“He had it, but we have not heard anything yet, so I’ll let you know,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters before the series opener with the Milwaukee Brewers in D.C.

Martinez followed up with a brief update before Saturday afternoon’s matchup in Nationals Park.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

“Joe is doing good. He survived,” the skipper said, “... so he’s alright. He’s going to recover.

“It’s going to be a long process, as we all know, when you have Tommy John, but he’s doing great. He knows what he’s up against, but he’s eager to get going.”

For Ross, who opted out of 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign, he has now pitched in just 50 games, making 31 starts in the majors over the last four years.

Martinez also provided a couple other quick-hit injury updates in the last few days.

“Mason [Thompson] is throwing live BPs, so he’s doing well,” he said on Saturday, of the right-handed reliever who went on the IL with biceps tendinitis.

“And [Hunter] Harvey (pronator strain) is just progressing. Taking a little longer for him, he’s playing catch, he’s throwing some bullpens, but he hasn’t really faced any live hitters yet.”

He also talked about Aníbal Sánchez (cervical nerve impingement), who got off the plane from West Palm Beach to D.C. at the end of Spring Training with a neck issue which has to this point kept him on the IL for the first two+ months of the 2022 campaign.

“[Aníbal] threw off the mound. So, yeah, he threw a little bullpen. Light bullpen,” Martinez told reporters on Friday.

“He’s going to have to continue to throw — he’ll probably have to throw another bullpen or two, and then we’ll have to figure out what the next step from that is, whether we send him to Florida where we can get a controlled environment where he throws BP, a couple up and downs, and we control his pitch count, and then from there, we’ll get him back on a rehab assignment to start some games.”

Cruzing Along:

Davey Martinez remained confident, as Nelson Cruz struggled out of the gate after signing a 1-year/$15M free agent deal with the Nationals this spring, and told reporters he was sure the 41-year-old, 18-year veteran would turn it around at the plate, and his faith is now being rewarded.

In eight games and 35 plate appearances in June, Cruz was 12 for 30 (.400/.486/.633) with a double, two home runs, five walks, and seven Ks heading into Saturday’s matchup in D.C., and as the Nationals highlighted in their pregame notes, going back to May 20th, he’s gone 28 for 67 (.418/.487/.597), taking him from .182/.268/.280 on May 18th, to .261/.342/.387 on the year before the start of play yesterday.

He’s found the timing he was searching for in the first month-plus, and his manager said he likes what he’s seeing from the veteran slugger at the plate, especially his opposite field HR on Friday night.

Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“What I know about Nelson, when he’s going really well — that ball he hit to right-center field? He can do that,” Martinez said. “He really drives balls to center field, right-center field. When he does that, his timing is good. And he’s a professional hitter. If you watch him with two strikes, he doesn’t try to do too much with runners in scoring position, and a lot of guys that drive in 100+ runs a year, do do that. I watched Frank Thomas do that for years, just with two strikes, guy on third base, just stay back and hit the ball the other way. You know, for them it’s not all about hitting home runs, it’s driving in runs. The home runs — and he says it all the time — the home runs will come, and when they do come, typically for him they come in bunches, but he really focuses on driving in runs, that’s what he likes to do is drive in runs.

“He’s just a really good hitter. And when you talk about his timing, he wasn’t that far off, but now you can see it.

“He’s on every pitch. When he’s fouling balls back, he’s just missing them, but he’s squaring balls up a lot now, so it’s good to see.”

Cruz went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run in Saturday’s win.

Lane Train:

Davey Martinez put Lane Thomas up top in his lineup for the third straight game and fifth time this season for the second of three with the Brewers in D.C. on Saturday, and he told reporters before the game while he still thinks leading off is not a big deal, especially, the manager reiterated, after the first at-bat, he does think Thomas has responded well to the switch.

Thomas was 14 for 32 (.438/.471/.813) with three doubles, three home runs, five RBIs, two walks, and 10 runs scored in seven games this month heading into Saturday’s matchup.

He also, “hit safely in six of the seven, with all six being multi-hit efforts,” as the club noted in their pregame notes.

“I think for him, it was a comfort thing,” Martinez said on Saturday afternoon, of the move to the top of the order from the bottom for Thomas late last month.

“He was so in-between early on in the season. I know in Spring Training, he wanted to work on staying on the ball, hitting the ball to right field more, you know, and I think he got caught up in trying to do that too much, that he was just missing some pitches, he was late, his timing was all messed up.”

Martinez and Nationals’ hitting coach Darnell Coles went to work with Thomas and we are now seeing the results.

“Talking to D.C., I sat down with D.C., and said, ‘Look, this guy, when we first got him here, all he did is want to pull, pull, pull, pull everything, and we kind of got him more —just not thinking to right field, but thinking more left-center field, because he’s got such a good swing, and he doesn’t miss fastballs,’ so we talked a lot to him. We cut back on his work, because this guy will hit all day long if you let him, so we had to cut back on some of his work, and we told him, ‘Just be ready for the fastball, and just try to drive it to left-center field,’ and I think that helped him out a lot.

Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“Now he’s not really trying to hit the ball to right field. He’s just letting it happen. He sees the ball away, he just swings at it.”

Everyone involved put in a lot of work and the 26-year-old outfielder has been on a nice run for a couple weeks now.

“For me, it was all just things that he was really working on, really wanting to work on,” the manager said, “and he just lost focus on who he is, and sometimes that happens. He’s in a good place right now. Like I said, he’s hitting balls to right field and not really trying, he’s staying on breaking balls and driving them over there, he’s really getting on fastballs well now.

“This is the guy that we saw last year,” Martinez said, referring to the run Thomas went on with regular at-bats after the Nationals acquired him from St. Louis at the trade deadline sell-off last July 30th.

“Hopefully we keep him that way for many, many months,” the manager continued, “but as you know, this game always changes, guys go into slumps, so if we can limit the times they do go in a funk, that’s what we try to do.”