Lane Thomas Sits One Out:
Lane Thomas played in all of the first 20 games to start the 2023 campaign, but the 27-year-old outfielder finally got a day off in the series finale with the Twins on Sunday, sitting down after going 2 for 9 with three Ks in back-to-back wins in the first two in the Twin Cities.
Thomas finished the day on Saturday 22 for 79 (.279/.318/.329) with four doubles, four walks, and 23 Ks in his first 85 plate appearances this season, in his third year with the Nationals, who acquired him from the Cardinals at the trade deadline in 2021.
“So far, so good,” Davey Martinez said of his right fielder, who came into the ‘23 campaign looking to be more consistent at the plate and better in the field, and is off to a solid start.
“He’s putting the ball in play, he’s hitting the ball,” Martinez told reporters before Sunday’s game. “I know he struggled a little bit yesterday, but that guy [Twins’ starter Pablo López] is pretty good. But he’s hitting the ball. The power will come, as we know, it’s still early, but I told him, I said, ‘Hey, just stay in the middle of the field, and just use your legs.’ The biggest thing with him is staying on his legs, when he uses his legs really well you see the power come out.”
Thomas hit 26 doubles and 17 home runs in 146 games and 548 PAs in 2022. In the field, he struggled at times going back, especially on plays on the track or at the wall, but he’s put in plenty of work on his defense, with the Nationals looking to shore up the weak spots with his game over the winter and in Spring Training.
So far this season, Martinez said, Thomas’s defense has been, “Way better, way better.”
“He’s getting back to the balls a lot better, and obviously we did some work on him, and we moved him back about five steps so he could get to the wall a lot easier, so he doesn’t have to think about it. It’s helped him out a lot.”
“He’s been good,” the manager added.
“Other than the communication issues with [Victor] Robles, he’s handled right field really well.
“His throws have been good. He’s getting good jumps on balls.
“So he’s played well.”
Speaking of Robles:
With the score 2-1 in the Twins’ favor on Sunday, CJ Abrams singled to lead off the Nationals’ half of the fifth inning, then Victor Robles squared to bunt, reached across the plate, for a first-pitch slider from right-hander Bailey Ober, and dropped it right in front of home, where the ball quickly died in the dirt, allowing catcher Ryan Jeffers to pounce and start a 2-6-3 DP on which it looked like Robles thought it was foul and thus didn’t run it out.
“I got confused myself,” Robles said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after a 3-1 loss in Target Field. “I just assumed it was a foul ball.”
“In that situation, you bunt the ball you’ve got to run,” manager Davey Martinez said in his post game press conference.
“You’ve got to hear the umpire call a foul ball. You can’t assume it’s a foul ball. He’s just got to run. I don’t know how many times I’ve got to tell him. He’s not an umpire. He’s got to run hard to first base.”
Martinez was asked about his thinking in asking Robles to bunt in that situation, and he said he thought it made sense given the context.
“Look,” he explained. “Victor struggles on sliders; we all know that. So I mean, I think right there at that point in time, if we can get [Abrams] to second base and give Alex [Call] a shot to drive him in, if he bunts the ball well, he could bunt for a base hit, as well.
“In that situation there, we’re trying to get a run, get back in the game, see if we can get something started that way. And it just didn’t happen.”
It wasn’t all negative for Robles and from Martinez.
Later in the game, with a runner, Willi Castro, on first in the bottom of the eight, Michael A. Taylor hit a fly to center with Castro on the move, and Nats’ second baseman Luis García deked him at second base, pretending there was a throw incoming. Castro slid in headfirst and then got wise and tried to sprint back to first base, but Robles made the catch and the throw to Dominic Smith at first on a fly to complete an 8-3 DP.
“I think the deke kept Castro at second base, which was awesome, and heads-up play by [Robles]. Just came back and threw the ball and he threw it right on the money.”