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Washington Nationals news & notes: Luis García and the second base job in D.C.

Notes and quotes on the Nationals’ 23-year-old infielder and where the club wants to see him make adjustments...

“Before we start talking about this,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters, in discussing the club’s decision to option its 23-year-old infielder, Luis García, out to Triple-A early this past August, “I still strongly believe that Luis is a big part of our future, I really do.”

Washington’s decision-makers did send García down for a month-plus in early August and called him back up in early September, with GM and President of Baseball ops Mike Rizzo explaining at the time it was a “preparation assignment” for the left-handed hitting middle infielder.

“We wanted him to go down there and learn a routine,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, “… and learn how to prepare for each and every game in the big leagues.”

As the GM in D.C. explained it, before calling García back up, the young veteran of four seasons in the majors took the message to heart.

“He went down there and has really tightened up his time in the weight room, his time in the batting cage, his time in the video room,” Rizzo said.

“He’s really gotten himself in great shape, he’s lost several pounds, which was one of the things that we wanted him to work on when he got down there.

“He’s working with our hitting coordinators and our hitting coach down there in Triple-A, and [he’s had a] really took a good attitude down there and looked at this as something of an opportunity in a less competitive environment to really get his game under wraps, and he’s done a great job there.”

via baseballsavant.com

“He went down there and did everything we asked him to do,” Martinez said once García was back up in the majors.

“Looks great. He was playing a lot better, playing with a lot of intensity, showing up early to the ballpark, getting all his work done. Really trying to hone in on just one swing.”

As the manager explained it, García did a lot of tinkering with his swing when things weren’t going his way at the plate.

“Every day he was changing — different batting stances, where his hands go, so we are still going to work with him on just finding one particular swing and work with that and see if we can get him going consistently.

“But I’m proud of him. He went down there and did all the things we asked him to do. He’s going to get an opportunity again to play here, at least I know for sure against right-handed pitching. But if he does well we’ll stick him out there, but I told him, I said, ‘You got to be engaged on every pitch, of every game,’ so we’ll see how he does.”

García told reporters he wasn’t sure what to make of the decision to send him to the minors at first, but put in all the work he needed to while at Triple-A.

“I can’t say that initially I was very happy with the decision,” García said, as quoted by MASN reporter Mark Zuckerman, last September.

“More, I guess, I didn’t understand it. But on my drive to Scranton [where Rochester was at the time]… I started just kind of thinking about it and realized that it’s part of the game to help me, so that I can improve in certain aspects of my game. And I looked at it that way. And I went down there to work, and it’s a learning experience. And I feel like I did that, but I’m back up here trying to just do what I can to finish strong.”

García was in an 0 for 12 stretch over four games, coming off of a .217/.250/.301 month of July in which he’d hit just two doubles and one home run when he was optioned to Triple-A (with a .259/.293/.362 line on the year in the majors), and he put up a .268/.315/.381 line, eight doubles and a home run in 25 games and 108 PAs before he was called back up, and he posted a .304/.360/.507 line, five doubles, and three home runs in 22 games and 75 PAs down the stretch to wrap up his season at .266/.304/.385 with 18 doubles, four triples, and nine home runs in 122 games and 482 PAs overall.

What did the Nationals task García with working on over the winter?

“Have you seen his body?” Martinez asked rhetorically when he spoke with reporters at the 2023 MLB Winter Meetings on Monday and was asked about García.

“He’s looking good. Hey, I told him he’s got to get agile. He’s another guy, we got to get him more to swing less.

“I don’t want to take his aggressiveness away, but he’s got to learn how to hit the ball in the strike zone.”

Luis García defensively vs NL 2B with at least 900 innings in the field in 2023.

If he didn’t get the message that the club needs to see more from him when they sent him down, Martinez reiterated as much on the way out at the end of the regular season.

“Yeah, look, my message to him was, is, no guarantees in Spring Training. You got to come and fight for a job. I think I sent the message to him when we sent him down. And it hurt me because I love the kid. But he’s got to get better.

“He’s going on his fourth year now with us, and I know what the upside is with Luis, but we got to get it out of him. He’s got to be consistent.”

Could an in-house option like Jake Alu, who made his MLB debut this season, (after the 26-year-old, 2019 24th Round pick put up a .288/.347/.451 line over four seasons in the minors) push García for the second base job this spring?

“I see Jake, yeah, definitely see Jake pushing him a little bit there,” Martinez said on Monday.

“He’s definitely — I love Jake because he can do multiple things. Also like Jake at third and I like him at left field.

“But having Jake would be definitely a plus, and he’s another — he’s a guy that can hit left-handed as well.”

Any possibility the Nats add a veteran second baseman to the mix over the winter?

“We’re going to look at how we can get better as a whole,” Martinez said.

“Whether it’s at second base… look, like I said, I believe after what happened last year with Luis that he’s going to come back in Spring Training ready. But only time will tell.

“We got other holes that we need to fill. So but we’re definitely going to be looking.”