No one expected Joey Meneses to replace Juan Soto or Josh Bell when the Washington Nationals brought him to the big leagues on Aug. 2.
The 30-year-old career minor leaguer’s arrival that day was certainly under the radar, as the Twitterverse was buzzing about the trade that sent Soto and Bell to San Diego and all the dazzling prospects the Nats received in return.
So when Meneses hit a home run in his major league debut, it might have been as much of a surprise to Nats’ fans as the 5-1 victory over the New York Mets it fueled, spoiling Jacob deGrom’s return from the injured list.
The hits and homers have continued in the past two weeks.
After his second career homer Tuesday in a 6-3 loss to the Cubs came his first game winner, a two-run shot off Mark Leiter Jr. to help the Nats break a six-game skid.
Then, in the series where Nats fans had their long goodbye with Soto and Bell, Meneses outhit them both, going 6-for-12 for the weekend with the game-tying homer in the Nationals’ 4-3 comeback win over the Padres on Saturday.
Soto was 4-for-12 in the weekend series, while Bell went 0-for-13. Neither went deep.
“He’s swinging the bat well, he really is,” manager Davey Martinez said on Saturday night.
“He’s got a great two-strike approach, he’s staying on the baseball, when he’s ahead in the count he tries to drive the ball and it’s been really good.”
On Sunday, Meneses had his fifth straight two-hit game to improve to .400/.447/.829 since joining the team.
The Nationals say his 14 hits are most by any Nationals player in his first 10 career MLB games since the team moved to Washington in 2005. Luis García, Juan Soto and Ian Desmond had 12 hits in their first 10 MLB games.
While Meneses hasn't exactly filled out two spots in the order for the Nats, with 14 hits and five home runs in his first 10 games, he has as many hits as Soto since the trade and more homers than the two former Nats combined.
It might be an unexpected start in the big leagues for a guy who has bounced around three minor league systems in the past 11 seasons with a .768 career OPS.
After signing a minor league deal with the Nationals in January, he slashed .286/.341/.489 with 20 home runs for Rochester, earning a call-up and a spot on the 40-man roster when Soto and Bell were dealt.
Manager Davey Martinez isn’t quite surprised at the power he’s seen from Meneses.
“We saw him in Spring Training here and there,” Martinez said before Meneses hit his fourth homer Wednesday in Chicago.
“He came up and played, and he swung the bat well, and he went to Rochester, and he swung the bat really well at Rochester.”
While the hits are welcome, Martinez says the bonus is what’s in the rest of his versatile rookie’s game.
“What I really didn’t know is how well he handles himself,” said Martinez. “Whether it’s first base, right field, left field, he does all the little things, and his arm, his arm is really good out there. So, you know, he’s doing well, he’s been up here and he’s working hard and he’s doing really well right now.”
Martinez, in his fifth year managing after a 16-year big-league career, says it’s satisfying to see Meneses thriving so soon after more than a decade in the minors.
“For him to continue to succeed up here, and watch him do what he’s doing, it’s awesome and it’s gratifying,” said the skipper. “Hey, he played down [in the minors] and worked his tail off to get to the major leagues, and the dividends are paying off for Joey.
“Because it’s not easy playing up here. So, I love when those guys get up here and they get a chance to play and they go out there and show what they can do.”