Stone Garrett started three times early this season, twice in the road series in Coors Field, and the 27-year-old was off to a strong start, 7 for 12 with a couple doubles and a home run in his 14 plate appearances, but at-bats were hard to come by with Alex Call, Victor Robles, and Lane Thomas starting most days for the Nationals.
On Sunday, Washington’s skipper Davey Martinez got Garrett back in there in the series finale with Cleveland’s Guardians.
“This guy [Guardians’ starter Shane Bieber] he throws a lot of off-speed stuff, he keeps the ball out over the plate. So I thought it would be a good matchup,” the manager said of his decision to start Garrett when he spoke to reporters before the game.
“Alex has been playing every day, Call, so give him a day. Let’s get [Garrett] out there. Like I said before, I’ve been wanting to get him out there. I think today is a good day.”
Martinez said he wanted to see Garrett go out there and do the same things he had been doing when he’d had a chance to play over the first few weeks.
“Just got up there and see the ball and have good swings,” he said.
“The days I’ve played him, he’s done that. Understand that, hey, walks are good for him too, so don’t try to do too much.”
While he hasn’t been playing, Martinez has gotten to know Garrett better and he’s watched the way the veteran, in his second big league season, puts in work to be ready for any and all opportunities he does receive.
“He’s a student of the game,” Martinez said. “He watches everything that goes on, but then again, around the fifth inning, sixth inning, he gets himself ready to go, just in case he’s got to pinch hit, pinch run, whatever we need him for, but he pays attention to what’s going on. And so like I said, he’s been good. He gets his work in, he works hard, and I told him, ‘Hang in there, we’ll get you some at-bats. These other guys, Alex has been doing great up at the top, Lane is getting his hits, but I’ll figure out a way to get you in there,’ so today is his day.”
Call was also in a 1 for 17 mini-slump over the previous four games, so it made some sense to give him a day as well.
“I think he’s getting a little bit pull-happy, you know,” Martinez said in assessing Call’s recent struggles.
“He’s got to stay on the ball. They’re starting to pitch him a little bit away. And the other thing too, he’s aggressive; he’s taken some good hacks. We talked about this in Anaheim that the ball wasn’t going nowhere, he thought he clipped a couple balls that were hit hard and he does hit the ball hard. But like I said, I thought after yesterday, he just needs a day.”
Garrett once again took advantage of his opportunity, going 2 for 4 with a double and two runs scored. He doubled and scored in the second, then singled and scored on a sac fly in the bottom of the eighth, tying things up at 6-6 on a close play at the plate which was reversed in the Nationals’ favor on review, before the Nats won by a run in the series finale in the nation’s capital.
“He played really well,” Martinez said of Garrett’s big game on Sunday.
“It was a close play, but for me there was no doubt I wasn’t going to challenge the whole play. It was that close,” Martinez said. “But we had to take a chance. I thought [Third Base coach] Gary [DiSarcina] did a great job sending him, Stone had a great jump, ran hard, and it was bang-bang. They got the call right.”
And Garrett got to show off his speed too, another tool he brings to the bench or lineup depending on how he’s used.
“He can run a little bit,” Martinez said.
“I’ve seen it in Spring Training. He got back to the base, he was ready, he was on time and, man, he had a great jump and it was awesome.”
As for how he’ll decide who’s going to play in Tuesday’s opener with the rival Orioles?
“I’ve got a lot of homework to do ... tomorrow,” Martinez joked.
“Tonight I’m going to enjoy some dinner, a glass of wine, and relax a little bit.”
Victor Robles went into Sunday’s finale with the Guardians in Nationals Park in something of a mini-slump of his own, going 0 for 14 with four Ks over the previous four games, after a 14 for 34 start to the 2023 campaign for the 25-year-old outfielder.
“He’s just getting a little bit pull-happy,” Martinez said before the game. “We’ve got to get him back. He’s rolling over a little bit. We’ve just got to get him back in the middle of the field.”
While acknowledging the recent down-turn for Robles, the manager said he was happy with the start the center fielder in D.C. is off to this season, after struggling to get back to where he was on the way up and in his first seasons with the team.
“He’s been awesome,” Martinez said.
“He’s been that way since day one of Spring Training. Since we had that first conversation of Spring Training, he had a plan. And he stuck with the plan, and he’s been really good with it. That’s why you’re seeing the success he’s had. A lot of this is about knowing who you are as a player, and knowing what you want to be. I think he took a lot of things to heart that we talked about before he went [home] this winter. And this is the player I thought he can be. A guy that gets on base, a guy that plays good defense, not trying to do too much. We’ve all seen that the ball comes off the bat when he squares the ball up, but don’t try to be that home run guy, because — in ‘19, he didn’t try to hit home runs, it just happened. I told him, ‘It’ll happen.’
“For the most part they pitch him middle-away, ‘We got to get you to stay on the ball, hit the ball the other way,’ and that’s when he’s really good.”