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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats start second half in St. Louis…

Notes and quotes from the first half of the 2023 campaign...

“First Half”:

Going into the All-Star Break with a series win (taking 2 of 3) against the AL West’s first place Texas Rangers, was a positive way to wrap up an up-and-down first 90 games of 2023’s MLB season for the Washington Nationals.

“Well, it’s a good way to finish off,” sixth-year manager Davey Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco after the series finale with the Rangers.

“Boys played well. It was good. You’re playing a team that’s got some horses over there. To come out the way we did the last two games was awesome.

“These guys, I’m proud of the way they’re playing and the way they played.”

MLB: JUL 09 Rangers at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Martinez’s club went into the break 36-54 on the year, 24.5 out in the NL East, and a total 13.0 games back in the NL Wild Card race, but the skipper in D.C. talked after the third of three with Texas about the progress he’s seen from his rebooting ballclub.

“It’s awesome because we have three of our young pitchers in the rotation,” he said. “Pretty young bullpen. Some of our young guys are getting better, they’re stepping up. Keibert [Ruiz], Luis [Garcìa], CJ [Abrams], and I still consider Lane [Thomas] young because he really hasn’t played much. But these guys were all learning and they’re getting better. I know in the future we’re still getting some of these really young kids. Start adding little pieces here and there.

“We’re gonna compete. We’re gonna compete to get in those playoffs again. But this group is the stepping stone right now, so it’s been fun.”

Meneses Being Meneses Again?:

Joey Meneses hit 13 home runs in 56 games and 240 plate appearances over the final two months-plus of the 2022 campaign, after he came up to the big leagues as a 30-year-old rookie in the immediate aftermath of the deadline deal which sent Juan Soto (and Josh Bell) to San Diego’s Padres.

Meneses’s sort-of out-of-nowhere run in the nation’s capital helped to soften the blow of losing Soto (along with the real prospect haul the Nationals received in the trade).

But the power on display over the final weeks of the ‘22 season and in the World Baseball Classic this past Spring was nowhere to be found over the first months of 2023.

Meneses hit just two home runs in his first 345 PAs this year (though he did connect for 19 doubles).

His manager, Davey Martinez, saw positive signs in Meneses’s first few games this month, including July 4th’s loss to the Reds, which saw the slugger drive in a run on a line drive to deep left field.

Texas Rangers v Washington Nationals Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

“He got the ball up in the zone. He got ready early,” Martinez said of the liner by Meneses.

“First time in a long time he’s got the ball in the air to left field. And that’s great. So we got to continue to work with him. He’s working diligently to get set up early and use his legs a little bit more. Today was awesome. He was able to drive the ball to left field.”

Three days later, Meneses doubled his home run total on the year in one day, hitting two out in a 7-2 loss to Texas.

“Two big home runs for him, hopefully he gets it going,” Martinez said. “I know we got the All-Star Break [coming up], but that’s kind of nice to see him swing the bat like that.”

What, if anything, was different on the two home run swings?

“He’s just aggressive on the fastball,” the manager said. “Caught the ball — got ready early, caught the ball out front. He’s been working really hard on trying to hit the ball out front a little bit more, and he got the bat head out in front of home plate.”

One home run, sure, it’s nice, but could hitting two in the game, Martinez was asked, boost the slugger’s confidence he’d found something or something clicked with his swing?

“The second one, good fastball, and he caught the ball out front, a ball middle-in, but it was a great swing, so hopefully he’ll get going now,” Martinez said.

Meneses homered in each of his next two games as well, for four in 12 PAs, again, after he hit two in his first 345 PAs.

“He’s staying back and using his legs,” his manager said before the “first-half” finale.

Texas Rangers v Washington Nationals Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

“We talked about him, he’s been working on not jumping out there. He’s staying behind the ball and you can see that the power is coming now. So it’s awesome. We got to continue to work with him and let them understand that he needs to use his legs to hit.”

After he’d homered again later that day, Martinez said the blasts were a result of Meneses sticking with his approach and getting his timing down.

“Joey once again, the home run, oppo,” Martinez said. “He’s starting to understand how to use his legs again. Hopefully, he has a monster second half for us.”

“I feel like when those at-bats start coming,” Meneses said, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco, “I feel a little bit more confident. I start feeling good.

“I get in these little streaks where I get a little hot and my swing starts going in that direction. I feel good and confident, and that’s what gets it going.”