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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats drop opener with Rays, 6-2; Davey Martinez talks Victor Robles; Corey Dickerson + more

Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ loss to the Rays last night in the nation’s capital...

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Williams:

Trevor Williams tossed four scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit, walking two and striking out one in a 52-pitch effort in the final exhibition game of the spring last week in Nationals Park, in his first outing for Washington, after signing a 2-year/$13M free agent deal with the Nats this winter.

It was, obviously, his first start for the home team in D.C., and it was an opportunity for the 30-year-old, seven-year veteran to get comfortable on the Nationals’ side of things after he’d made five appearances and three starts in the park as a member of the opposition in his career.

“It was good to complete four. We were shooting for about 50 pitches,” Williams said after the outing, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco.

“So to get up there, get four ups, and have some clean innings was good. It’s nice to pitch in a big league atmosphere, a big league stadium. It was a fun first date wearing a white jersey here or white pants here. I took a minute to kind of look around the ballpark from a different angle today and I can’t wait to get the regular season started.”

His first regular season outing for his third major league team didn’t get off to a great start.

Williams recorded two quick outs in last night’s series opener with Tampa Bay in the nation’s capital, but a close play a first base went the Rays’ way, with Randy Arozarena beating out a grounder to short, and then Luke Raley stepped in next and hit a first-pitch fastball 429 feet to center field for a two-run shot and a 2-0 lead after one.

A couple singles on soft ground balls and close plays at first base in the second put runners on second and third with one out. Williams spiked a throw to first base on a Josh Lowe slow roller, then stumbled on a dribbler off Manuel Margot’s bat, falling and making a toss to the base from his stomach which bounced by first when Margot’s leg knocked Dominic Smith’s glove off Smith’s hand. Davey Martinez argued for an interference call since the runner was out of his lane, but the umps disagreed, and a sac fly brought in the third run, 3-0 Rays.

Isaac Paredes hit a hanging 1-0 slider which ended up middle-middle out to left and halfway up the stands for a leadoff blast in the top of the fourth, with the 404-foot shot making it a 4-0 Rays’ lead.

Williams was up to 93 pitches after five, and the Nationals went to the pen in the sixth, still trailing the Rays, 4-0...

Trevor Williams’ Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 2 HRs, 93 P, 59 S, 6/3 GO/FO.

Mason Thompson tossed two scoreless in relief, but gave up a home run in his third inning of work in the eighth, 5-1 Rays, a half-inning after the Nats got on the board with their only run in which ended up a series-opening loss. A run off Anthony Banda in the ninth made it 6-1, before Jeimer Candelario hit his first home run as a Nat out to left-center to make it 6-2, which is how it ended.

“Some unfortunate plays,” Martinez said in summing up Williams’ start after the third loss in the first four games. “A couple balls he left up and got hit hard, but overall, we make a couple plays he’s out of the inning in the first inning, and then — thank goodness he didn’t get hurt, but he fell. Could have got that out. And another little ground ball that we should have got out. But I thought he did okay. He wanted to go out for the sixth inning because that’s just who he is, but at five innings and 90+ pitches, I thought that was good.”

Williams expressed frustration about the “unfortunate plays” he was unable to make, and said he made some mistakes Rays’ hitters got all of and hit out.

“The Raley home run was down and away,” Williams explained.

“He put a good swing on it, he’s a really good hitter. Same with Paredes. It’s me being lazy with 1-0 spin, but he’s a good player and he has a great approach. He hit a mistake.

“Unfortunately at this level, you can’t make many mistakes because big league hitters are real.”

“There was a couple pitches he wished he had back,” Martinez added, “... but overall, get those couple pitches back, make a couple plays behind him, and it’s a pretty close game.”

Abrams Back In:

CJ Abrams’ name was not penciled in as part of the Nats’ starting lineup for the third game of the regular season after he made three errors in the season opener and went 0 for 7 at the plate in the first two games of the new campaign, but his manager, Davey Martinez, assured reporters gathered in Nationals Park for the series finale with Atlanta on Sunday it was not a reaction to Abrams’ start, but part of a plan put together before the opener.

“It was a schedule before the season started,” Martinez explained.

“After looking at everything I wanted to give him this day off.”

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Martinez was asked how he wanted the 22-year-old infielder to handle the day off after a (really small sample size) shaky start.

“He’s actually really good,” Martinez said. “He came in, he worked out ... I know he was out there working on some stuff with some ground balls. So, but he’s been really good. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll be ready for whatever you need me for.’

“I said, ‘Stay ready. We’ll probably need you.’”

Abrams didn’t end up playing in the finale with the Braves, but he was back in there for the opener with the Rays last night, going 0 for 3 with a walk.

He hit a fly to left in the final at-bat of the game, but it was caught.

“He smoked the last one to left field. Just a tough break,” Martinez said.

Dickerson/Outfield Update:

Davey Martinez didn’t have the results of the MRI on Corey Dickerson’s calf when he spoke to reporters on Sunday, but before Monday’s game, the sixth-year skipper said his veteran outfielder was diagnosed with a mild strain of his left calf.

“These calf things,” Martinez said, are always tricky, “as we’ve learned in the past. We’ll see how it goes, but hopefully it won’t take long, but the calves are very unusual.”

With Dickerson on the injured list, and Stone Garrett called up from Triple-A on Sunday, the manager was asked who would get time in left field, where Alex Call and Dickerson made it as platoon partners on the Opening Day roster.

“Yeah, I think we’ll look at matchups,” Martinez said, when it comes to lineup decisions.

“But I think Alex [Call] will get a chance to play out there, and also [Ildemaro] Vargas can play out there too if it matches up right.”

Vargas got the call in left for Monday night’s series opener with Tampa Bay.

“[Call is] definitely going to play,” Martinez said before the game.

“We’ve got a lot of lefties coming up so for me it’s just about getting Vargas out there and getting some at-bats.

“I want to get Stone out there one of these days here as well, but I envision Alex getting a lot of playing time.”

It was just the sixth start in the outfield in the 31-year-old, seven-year veteran’s career, but Martinez said he’d seen enough of Vargas in the outfield to be comfortable putting him in left field.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“You know, he does it a lot in winter ball,” the manager explained. “He plays left field a lot. He’s actually played some center field in winter ball as well, and he feels comfortable out there. I watched him in Spring Training out there. He runs around really well, gets good jumps on balls. My biggest thing when you’ve got a guy that plays the infield so much, is the throwing part, that he doesn’t hurt his arm, try to change his arm angle, and that he just understands, ‘Hey, get to the ball as quick as you can and just get it in. Don’t worry about trying to throw people out.’ I worry about that, because he is a big part of our bench, and he is our backup shortstop and middle infielder, so want to make sure he stays healthy.”

Dickerson coming up injured was frustrating enough for the outfielder and manager.

“We do everything we can to get these guys ready in Spring Training and try to keep them healthy, but it’s unfortunate,” Martinez said.

“It’s a bad part of the game, and it does happen, but I can’t wait till he gets back because he’s a big part of our lineups, but it’s nice to be able to have Vargas and some other guys that can play. Call, and even [Michael] Chavis can play out there if we need to, and Stone [Garrett].

“So we’re covered, but it really stinks, like I said, when it’s this early and you worked your way through Spring Training, and you felt good and something like this happens.”

Watching Victor:

Going into last night’s game, Victor Robles, who went 15 for 47 (.319/.360/.511) with four doubles, a triple, and a home run in 18 Grapefruit League games this spring, was 2 for 7 early this season, with two singles and three walks in the first three games, giving him a .500 OBP.

His manager, Davey Martinez, said before the start of the second series of 2023 it was the stat he focused on when judging Robles’s performance.

“For me it’s on-base percentage,” he explained. “We talk a lot about team at-bats too, and what they do in team at-bats. So he’s a guy that needs to be very situational, whether it’s bunting a guy over, getting a guy over from second base with no outs, driving in free runs with a guy on third base less than two outs, those are the little things I want to see Victor do. He’s been great. He’s been absolutely wonderful, and he’s really, really, really, really taken everything we told him this spring to heart and really, really trying to work on just getting on base. And it’s been great. He’s been on base for us quite a bit already, but that’s all him. Him wanting to do it now, which is nice.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“Took a few years, but we finally got instilled in him that, ‘Hey, you can do this, I know you can do this.’

“The home runs, I think, will come for him. He’s strong, and he’s been hitting the ball fairly hard, but you can’t force it, just play the game.”

Patience at the plate, and more discerning pitch selection, Martinez continued, will only aid Robles in what he’s trying to do with the bat in his hands.

“All of a sudden now, he starts getting into a hitter’s count, and then that’s when he starts to hit the ball hard,” Martinez said.

“Instead of being 0-1 all of the time, or 0-2, where you’re basically fighting for your life up there. All of a sudden now you become more selective, and you get the 1-0s, and the 2-0s, and the 2-1s, where you might get a really good pitch to hit and drive the ball, so that’s kind of how we’re approaching it with him.”

The manager was also thrilled to see Robles hold up on an RBI single in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game, choosing not to throw it home when there was no play and instead throw it in to second base to hold the batter to a single.

“That is a, ‘Hallelujah!’ Right?” Martinez asked rhetorically. “I mean, hey, we tell him all the time, ‘Keep the double play in order,’” though there were two outs in this situation, so that really is more general advice.

“If we don’t have a chance then why force it, right?” he continued. “And we praised him for that too. Because there was times where he just airmailed that ball, and the fact that he came up, looked, realized, ‘Probably not a good idea,’ and he got the ball back into second base was awesome.”