Joey Meneses hit a 389-foot, opposite field home run to walk off on the A’s on Wednesday afternoon in the nation’s capital, connecting for his 7th HR in 25 games since he made his MLB debut back on August 2nd.
In his first 104 plate appearances in the majors, after ten years in the minors and playing internationally, the 30-year-old OF/1B was 35 for 99 (.354/.385/.626) with six doubles, seven homers, four walks, and 18 Ks in 104 PAs. If you look at his spray chart for hits, you see he’s spreading the home runs around too, with four to left, one pretty much straight center, and two to right, including the game-winner against Oakland, Washington’s first walk-off win of the 2022 campaign (131 games in).
“That’s what I love about him,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters after taking 2 of 3 from the A’s in D.C. this week, “... is that he uses the whole field when he goes to hit.
“He had a great game today, hit three balls up the middle hard, and a home run to right-center field. I can’t say enough about what he’s doing right now, he’s been awesome.”
“It’s very significant for me,” Meneses said, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco of the run he is on after finally getting an opportunity in the majors.
“All those years of playing in the minor leagues to get to this point and doing it at this moment, on this stage, it’s just something that I’m gonna enjoy very much.”
Meneses is also, his manager said, providing a great example for the young players on the Nationals’ roster.
“He’s the same guy no matter what,” Martinez said of Meneses coming through in big spots.
“From the first inning to the last inning. He goes up there and he’s going to try to get a good pitch to hit, and put a big swing on it. And the biggest thing for me — if I’m a young hitter, I’m watching right now what he’s doing, and his damage is really staying in the middle of the field, and going the other way. He’s crushing balls like that, especially with two strikes.
“I’m going to take that into consideration if I’m a young hitter. And say, ‘Man, I got to stay on the ball, right?’ And learn.”
His success is hard-earned.
“You talk about a guy that paid his dues,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this week, “... and I really think that he’s become a good hitter because of all the experience he had. He’s hit in so many different leagues. He played in the Mexican League where he sees a lot of offspeed, soft stuff, changeups and breaking balls, then in Triple-A where you see the velocity. He’s really become an accomplished hitter at the big league level.”
“What has surprised me is his defensive play in the outfield has been really good,” Rizzo continued.
“He made a play [Tuesday] night that was a terrific play for any right fielder in the game, and that has pleasantly surprised me a little bit.”
As he often does, Rizzo also credited the Nationals’ scouts for identifying a player who they thought could contribute to the organization.
“I give some credit to our scouting staff, who you kind of cover the whole world and you saw this player playing in the Mexican League and thought he could help the organization, and he’s a terrific guy, it’s a terrific story, and good for him. We’ll see in a bigger sample set how he holds up. The trick is always — getting to the big leagues is extremely important, but making adjustments to stay in the big leagues is what it’s all about. So we’ll see when the league goes around a couple times, where they make adjustments to him if he can make adjustments to the league, but it’s been a great story. And he’s really kind of a breath of fresh air and kind of a guy that gives you a really good feeling about chasing your dream and never giving up and that kind of stuff.”
He is still learning too, of course, and willing to put in the work. Meneses did have a three-hit day, capped off with a walk-off winner, but his manager said he also beat himself up for misplaying a ball in right field, charging in on a roller on the outfield grass and allowing it to get under his glove for the second time in recent games.
“He was a little upset that he missed that ball again in right field, it went underneath his glove,” Martinez explained. “And twice I told him, I said, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ And he just looked at me, and he goes, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’re picking up your head before you catch the ball.’ I said, ‘You got to catch the ball first, and then throw the ball. That’s the key. That’s the only thing you’re doing. When you’re coming in you’re charging the ball great. Don’t look at the runner, just catch the ball first, and then get up and throw it and try to throw it through your cutoff man.”
Gray’s Back In NY:
Four days after Josiah Gray’s 23rd start of the season, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked to reporters about his plan to get the 24-year-old acquired in the trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the LA Dodgers at the deadline in 2021, through their schedule in Gray’s first full season in the majors.
“We talked about Josiah. I want Josiah to keep pitching for the rest of the year,” Martinez said, “but also I want to give him a little bit of a break again, so he’ll miss a start, and we’ll get him back in the rotation, just to keep him fresh, I mean, he’s getting up there in innings to where we feel like we don’t want to push him past a certain amount of innings, but we also want him to continue to pitch for the rest of the year and not just sit around.
“I sat with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, we thought about just giving him a little break, he’ll get a little break, he’s going to work on some stuff in bullpens, and then we’ll get him back out there.”
Martinez said Gray was on board with the plans, but did have thoughts about when he did want to start.
“He’s very [accepting]. We talked a lot about he wants to pitch in New York, so I told him, ‘You’ll get an opportunity.’ We go there twice, so he’ll get an opportunity to pitch there.”
Gray was born in New Rochelle, NY, and went to high school there, before going to college in Syracuse ( Le Moyne College), before he was drafted by the Reds in the 2nd Round in ‘18, traded to the Dodgers later the same year, debuted with LA, and was then dealt to the Nats, for whom he made 12 starts down the stretch.
Ten days after his 23rd appearance, Martinez announced Gray would get his opportunity to pitch in NY, while reiterating the club would be watching him closely over the next starts.
“We’re at the point now where we got to be very, very careful with him as well because this is the most innings he has thrown. So we’re gonna take a really good look at what happens in his next couple of outings and go from there.”
Going into last night’s outing, Martinez talked about what, if any, advice he’d give to Gray heading into his first start in New York?
“Just control his heartbeat. I know he’s anxious to go out there and pitch, and he’s got some family coming to the game, so just go out there, and like I said, control the moments and go out there and have some fun,” Martinez said.
His welcome back to NY was a rude one, with the club in Flushing, Queens putting up six hits, two home runs (for a major league-leading 34 allowed over 128 1⁄3 IP (2.38 HR/9)), four walks, and six earned runs in five innings of work in a 7-3 win for the Mets.
“The ball was coming out good,” Martinez said after the game. “His slider was good, we noticed that he was throwing a lot of breaking pitches, we told him to throw some more fastballs, your fastball is electric today. He started doing that towards the middle of the third, fourth inning, and was good, so he started pitching, he was pitching well. So, like I said, I thought he threw the ball well.”
Not Antuna’s Turn?
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3.9M in July of 2016, infielder-turned-outfielder Yasiel Antuna struggled with injuries early in his pro career, first undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, then dealing with “leg problems” which limited him to three games played in the Gulf Coast League in 2019, then, MLB Pipeline scouts noted, in ranking the 22-year-old the 19th overall prospect in the organization for 2022, “Antuna forced his way onto the 40-man roster as an alternate-site standout in 2020,” but struggled offensive early in 2021, before picking things up. He committed 36 errors in 96 games at short last season before moving to a corner spot in the outfield, “... to lessen the burden on his glove and allow for more focus on the bat,” as the MLB Pipeline scouting report explained.
Antuna put up a .235/.372/.371 line with 13 doubles, 10 home runs, 72 walks, 88 Ks, and 26 stolen bases at High-A Wilmington before he was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg where he was 8 for 42 with three doubles and a home run in his first 12 games this year.
Davey Martinez talked about his development in the context of September call-ups, before the series finale with the Athletics on Thursday, when a reporter asked if they’d consideredc calling Antuna up with so few position players as options on the 40-Man roster.
“Antuna is still growing, still maturing a little bit,” Martinez said. “We didn’t feel like it was time for him to be here yet, there’s still a lot for him to learn. He’s moved up, as you know, so we want to see what he can do at that [Double-A] level, and then we’ll go from there. He definitely has tremendous upside as well know, but he’s really new to playing the outfield as well, so we didn’t want to bring him up here yet. We just want to get him used to doing all that stuff, and like I said, come Spring Training, or this winter — I’m hoping that he’s one of the guys who goes and plays winter ball, because he needs to go play the outfield as much as possible.
“Whether it’s for a month, it would be great for him to play, and then we’ll reassess where he’s at come Spring Training.”
MacKenzie Gore, 23, was included in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade with San Diego even though the Padres’ 2017 1st Round pick (3rd overall) was on the IL at the time with some inflammation in his left elbow.
He’s been making progress over the last month.
Gore threw a 35-pitch bullpen session at home in D.C. earlier this week, and Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about the next steps after he threw again yesterday in Citi Field in advance of the series opener with the New York Mets yesterday.
“If everything goes well, tomorrow if he feels good, he’s going to go out and we’re going to get him a sim game hopefully in St. Louis and then from there we’ll see what happens,” the fifth-year skipper explained.
Martinez said if all goes well, the plan is to get Gore up to 50 pitches in the sim game in St. Louis. So what is he working towards? Just getting healthy heading into the offseason? Do they still think he might pitch in the majors again this season after debuting with the Padres earlier this year?
“Our goal, if everything goes well, is to get him to start a game here and see how he feels after that,” Martinez said.
“And hopefully everything goes well, and we know when wintertime comes, he could just go on his regular program and get ready for Spring Training.”
Gore joined the big league club right after the trade, and he’s been around the team this whole time as he’s rehabbed. What has his manager learned about the lefty?
“He’s another young guy that we have that’s very competitive,” Martinez said.
“He’s anxious to get on the mound and pitch. And like I said, going out there and watching him throw, even though he’s not throwing 100% yet, man, he’s got some good stuff.
“And I’m looking forward to getting him out there, but yet we’re going to be smart about it.
“And if he’s completely healthy, he’ll get a chance to pitch this year.”