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Washington Nationals news & notes: Victor Robles project

Davey Martinez believes Victor Robles is going to become the player they need him to be this season…

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Victor Robles is aware he is running out of chances to establish himself as the center fielder in D.C., but the Washington Nationals want the 25-year-old to claim it before they have to go another direction, and they have told him as much. Maybe not in those words.

“I think he’s at a good place right now,” Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters earlier this month, as things got going in Spring Training 2023.

“I had a good talk with him, a good conversation that, ‘We’re going to be a lot better if you could play center field for us every day,’ and … do the simple things correctly. And that’s what he wants to work on this spring. So, I love where he’s at right now. I’ve always loved Vic as a person, and he has moments where he’s unbelievable, we got to make sure that those moments are consistent.

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Photo Day Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

“And if we can get him to do that, we’re going to have a really, really good, polished player.”

Of course, the club has been waiting for Robles to turn into a productive, polished big league outfielder they were hoping he’d turn into when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 and brought him up to the majors in 2017, a couple seasons before he helped win a World Series in 2019. Robles has, based on what he has said this spring, gotten the message from the team.

“Absolutely, I think myself and my team know I haven’t given my 100 percent potential that they expected, and that I expect,” Robles said last week, via interpreter Octavio Martinez, and as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “I think with the help of God this season, I will have a great season and show them what I can do.”

His manager thinks it’s Robles’s time to become the player the club thinks he can be.

“I think seeing him so far this spring, there’s a lot more maturity,” Martinez said last week. “I see him really focusing on working on the simple things that we’ve tried to get him to do. He’s actually focused more on that than all the other stuff that’s involved. And he looks good. He made some changes with his swing, and so far I like it, but even in the outfield. I took him out there today ... and he really stood out as a guy that understands what he needs to do, and he’s very quick, very precise, doing all the little things right.”

That’s something the club has stressed for Robles for a while now.

To paraphrase GM Mike Rizzo, some of the occasional mistakes Robles makes are a lot more tolerable when a player is hitting .300 with 20 home runs, but a player struggling at the plate needs to perform defensively and do all the so-called little things (which are usually big things) right.

“When I’ve done that in the past it was always one or two things that he struggled with or he’s missing,” Martinez said of his previous work with Robles, “... so like I said, I think this is the year for me where he gets back to who he is.

“That’s something that we talked to him over the years about. He wants to do a lot, and I know that he puts effort into really trying to help us win.

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

“I think we had to take a step back, he had to take a step back a little bit and really try to focus on who he really wants to be, and that’s what we’re trying to help with now. And I think he understands that now. Here’s a guy that, hey, he has to play great defense, that’s who he is, right? He’s got to get on base for us. We’re not looking for him — if he puts the ball in play like we think he can, as we saw in ‘19, the homers will be there, but it’s more just about good solid contact, staying in there, doing the little things that we ask him to do, and accepting it.”

And what are those little things the club wants Robles to focus on this spring, and the changes he needs to accept?

“He wants to make the big things [happen],” Martinez explained, but “… let’s focus on the simple things. That’s the thing. Playing deeper [in center field] will make things a lot easier for him. I know he wants to make the spectacular play, but let’s make those routine plays, because he moves so well out in the outfield. He’ll come get balls very well. So, and he’s way better coming in on getting balls than he is going back. That’s one.

“Not getting big at home plate, just trying to hit line drives. Staying in the middle of the field and just try to hit line drives and let’s see what happens. A lot of times he goes up there and he’s thinking hitting the ball out of the ballpark. We don’t need that. It’s great when it does happen, but he’s got to be the constant. The guy that gets on base for us, that can steal bases for us, especially now. He’s got to be that guy.”