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Washington Nationals news & notes: Lane Thomas at the plate; Keibert Ruiz starts again; and Victor Robles running...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability the last few days...

Robles Runs - Another Learning Moment:

We had to go back to the archived broadcast of the Nationals and Mets’ series finale in Citi Field for this one, because it didn’t register in real time, but after Victor Robles walked with one out in the eighth inning and Washington up 7-1 in the 3rd of 3 in Flushing, Queens, NY, he took off on an 0-1 pitch to Luis García, who grounded out to first.

Fairly innocuous, right? Except. Nah.

Davey Martinez was paying attention at time, and he stopped mid-answer later, after the Nats’ win, when he was asked about the team having more fun these days, (or at least the club looking like they were having more fun as they took 2 of 3 from the Mets with a new-look roster and a mix of young players and journeymen all getting opportunities in the final weeks of a long, tough season), to make sure everyone knew he didn’t tell Robles to run or really think it was appropriate.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

“We’re young,” Martinez started his response. “These guys — I want them to have fun. I want them to enjoy the game, but I want them to play the game the right way. Speaking of: Robles ran, he had the hold sign, we don’t do that here. And I’m just going to lay it out there. I talked to him already. We’re up by six runs like that, I have a lot of respect for the game, and that’s not how we’re going to play the game, so he understands that, but I want these guys to go out there and just have fun, relax, and just play the game, and learn, and that’s what these guys are doing.”

In recent weeks, he said, he has liked the effort and results overall.

“We’re pitching, we’re starting to put the ball in play, playing good defense. The last couple games were really good. So, like I said, I’m proud of the guys, these guys are playing hard, and that’s all you can ask for as a manager. You just want those guys to do the right things, pitchers keep us in the game, and that’s what they did.”

Bullpen Evaluation:

Before Sunday’s game, the Nationals placed reliever Victor Arano on the 15-Day IL with a right shoulder strain, (retroactive to Sept. 2), and recalled reliever Andres Machado, who has been up and down between Triple-A and the majors this season. Down the stretch in September/October, manager Davey Martinez said he’s hoping to get a good look at the relief corps currently up in the majors so he can evaluate what the club has right now.

“These guys have all pitched well,” he said. “The beautiful thing about this year is that, we were just talking about that, is that we have depth, and we have depth going into next year.

“We’ve got some guys that are controllable. We’ve got some guys that have options. So we feel good about our bullpen status for next year.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

“And it’s about — I’m going to start watching these guys as well, some of these guys that have been here, have pitched a lot. We might try some other guys in different situations, to give these guys a little breather. We could have easily done something different yesterday, but I kind of want to keep an eye on [Carl Edwards, Jr.] and [Kyle] Finnegan. I mean, they’ve both pitched a lot, and pitched in high-leverage situations, so but we got some other guys that I want to see do the same thing.

“[Hunter] Harvey, [Mason] Thompson now,” Martinez continued, “... even Machado in some situations early in the game, because Erasmo [Ramírez] has been great, right? So I want to see these guys go out there and pitch in some high-leverage situations and see what they can do for next year.”

Harvey tossed a scoreless inning in the sixth, after five scoreless from Nats’ starter Aníbal Sánchez, and Thompson took over in the seventh and gave the Nationals’ three scoreless innings on 32 pitches for the three-inning save.

“We thought if he goes through the first inning he can go out for the second inning, but he was throwing the ball really well,” Martinez said when asked about sticking with Thompson for three innings, “and [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey talked to him, and he said, ‘I want to go back out.’ And I said, ‘Send him back out. It would be awesome if we could get him out there.’ We talked a lot about stretching him out, he’s done it down in Rochester, and man, he threw the ball great, and I haven’t seen a three-inning save in a long time, and that was awesome.”

Seven Straight For Keibert:

Davey Martinez talked before the series finale with the Mets on Sunday about his 24-year-old catcher successfully lobbying to play in the third straight game in Citi Field, in a day game after a night game, and in what was his seventh consecutive game behind the plate for the club (which did call up a third catcher when rosters expanded on September 1st). It didn’t take much for Ruiz to talk his manager into it.

“He actually came in yesterday [Saturday], and talked to me about wanting to play today. And very adamant about it. And I asked him how he was feeling. And I loved it. So I said, ‘You want to play? You’re in there. You deserve that,’” Martinez related.

Ruiz, of course, is at the top of the league in games played by catchers, and he’s taken a bit of a beating back there, including another foul off his mask this weekend, something about which his manager has expressed concern, but he started in a seventh straight game in the series opener in St. Louis last night.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

“Keibert is catching again today,” Martinez said before the first of four with the Cardinals.

“He’s good. And like I said, he’s hungry. He wants to play. So he’ll catch today, and I’ll see how he feels tomorrow.

“But I explained to him that one of these two days, I’m probably going to give him the day off. But he says he feels great.”

Running Ruiz out there every day, does of course limit the opportunities for the other two catchers on the roster (Riley Adams and Tres Barrera) to get work and at-bats.

They know the deal though, according to their manager.

“I’ve talked to them before [about] what their role is. They understand that Keibert is an everyday catcher. I’ll get them in when I deem them fit to play them,” Martinez said.

“But like today, I saw Riley Adams already this morning studying all the hitters, preparing, talking to the pitchers. They know their role, so they’ll be good to go when they’re called upon.”

Ruiz went 2 for 3 with a home run in the eighth inning (his 7th of 2022) putting the Nats up 6-0 on the Cardinals in the series opener in St. Louis.

Lane’s Power:

Lane Thomas started the series in New York with an 0 for 5 night on Friday, but went 5 for 8 with a double, home run, and two walks in the next two games, and on the year he now has a .245/.299/.418 line with 21 doubles, 15 home runs, 29 walks, and 107 Ks in 119 games and a total of 428 plate appearances coming out of the matchup with the Mets.

Thomas hit seven home runs in 45 games and 206 PAs down the stretch last summer, given regular at-bats after he was acquired from St. Louis straight up for lefty Jon Lester in a trade at the deadline, and in 164 games and 634 PAs going into the series with the Cardinals, he’d put up a .253/.320/.440 line, 35 doubles, and 22 home runs as a National. Has the Nationals’ skipper been surprised by the power on display from Thomas this season?

Washington Nationals v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images

“No,” Davey Martinez said before last night’s matchup with Thomas’s former team.

‘After what we saw last year, we felt like he could potentially be a 15-20 home run guy. He hits the ball hard, so you can see what he’s doing this year. Since we’ve got him last year, if you look at his numbers, and I know we all have, he’s done really well, and like I said, we want to continue his growth, and we talk a lot about swinging early in counts, driving in more runs for us, but I put him in different spots just to see how he reacts to different things. So far, so good.

“We’ve got him leading off now, you know, and it seems like it doesn’t bother him where he hits, he’s just going to go up there and do the best he can to hit the ball hard.”

A reporter asked Martinez about Thomas’s approach at the plate, noting how he does not chase a whole lot (64th percentile), or swing and miss a lot (63rd), but does tend to strike out (25% K% this season; 27th percentile, which falls into Baseball Savant’s “Poor” territory).

Lane Thomas vs the league. Via

So is he taking too many strikes if he’s not chasing or swinging and missing much when he does offer at a pitch?

“We talk a lot to him about swinging a lot more, especially early in counts,” Martinez said.

“He seems like he’s up there and he takes a lot of balls until he gets to two strikes. We like him to swing more. Because when he does, good things happen. But some hitters just like seeing pitches, that’s just who they are, but especially with runners in scoring position, I would love for him to be a little more aggressive early in the count and see what happens.”

Martinez said Thomas’s approach at the plate is, of course, something he and his coaches have talked to the outfielder about.

“We talk to him about it, and he just said, ‘Look, I feel like sometimes I just want to see a pitch or two,’ and like I said, some hitters are like that.”

He also talked about Thomas returning to St. Louis for the first time since the Cards traded him last July 30th, and if he thought there would be some emotions there for the outfielder.

“He could feel a little bit of something, but I just want him to go out there and play and continue to do what he’s been doing,” Martinez said.

“I mean, he’s been awesome, especially the last few days, he’s getting us started early, so just go out there and continue to swing the bat the way he’s been doing.”

Thomas drove in a run with an RBI single the second time up in the third last night, and he walked with the bases loaded to force in a run in the sixth, before scoring another of the four runs the Nationals scored to go up 5-0 in what ended up a 6-0 win over the Cardinals.

Thomas finished the night 1 for 3 with two walks and a HBP, reaching base four times in the win.

“We talked earlier today about him just making things happen early,” Martinez said after the game.

“He worked some really good at-bats, he worked a bases-loaded walk, but he’s swinging the bat well.

“He’s seeing the ball well, he’s swinging the bat well, and when he can do that he gets us going and then he feeds our offense.”