Luis García was on a nice run at the plate before Washington recalled the 23-year-old from Triple-A Rochester earlier this month, going 14 for 40 (.325 AVG), with three doubles, three walks, and six runs scored in the last 11 games, and 6 for 13 (.462 AVG) in the final three for the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate, where he played for a month-plus after struggling offensively in the big leagues in his first 100 games and 407 plate appearances between late March and early August this season (.259/.293/.362, 13 doubles, four triples, six home runs, 21 BBs, 51 Ks).
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies before García was back up that the trip to Triple-A was a “preparation assignment”:
“We wanted him to go down there and learn a routine, and learn how to prepare for each and every game in the big leagues... he’s working with our hitting coordinators and our hitting coach down there in Triple-A, and really took a good attitude down there and looked at this as something of an opportunity in a less competitive environment to really get his game under wraps, and he’s done a great job there.
“We’ll see him soon in the big leagues playing second base for us every day because we think that he’s a big part of the future of this thing. He’s only 23 years old and has got a bunch of at-bats at the big league level under his belt with some success, and we just need him to be consistent, be consistent in his game, in his preparation and how he attacks being a major leaguer.”
“He went down there and did everything we asked him to do,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters once García was back with the big league club. “Looks great. He was playing a lot better, playing with a lot of intensity, showing up early to the ballpark, getting all his work done. Really trying to hone in on just one swing. The biggest thing for him is that every day he was changing — different batting stances, where his hands go, so we are still going to work with him on just finding one particular swing and work with that and see if we can get him going consistently.”
García went just 2 for 22 (.091/.130/.091) in his first eight games back (five starts), with both hits singles, a walk, and five strikeouts in 23 PAs. Martinez said before the series opener this weekend in Milwaukee there were mechanical issues with García the team was trying to get straightened out as he plays over the final weeks of the 2023 campaign.
“He’s flying open,” the manager explained. “We’re trying to get his direction straight to the pitcher. He’s still flying open a little bit, he’s rolling over. As you know he’s hitting a lot of ground balls, that’s because he’s not staying through the baseball. He’s working every day.
“Since he’s been here he’s worked super-hard on everything. He’s got a really good routine going. He’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do. I know the hits aren’t coming right now, but I’m happy that he’s actually going out there and really trying to compete, and actually doing things we want. The hits will come, we just got to get him to understand that staying in the middle of the field for him is good, and he’s going to hit a lot of doubles doing that. So we’ll get him there.”
Back with the big league team, Martinez said, Garcia was putting in work with Hitting Coach Darnell Coles and Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler (aka “Six”).
“He’s working with Darnell and Six, but I feel like in the next couple weeks, we want to get him squared away so that he goes back this winter, feels good about himself, and is ready for next spring as well.”
Asked about the reports he received from Triple-A on García, Martinez said there it was a bit of everything.
“It varied every day,” he said. “Some days he was good going the other way, some days he was pulling off. I think now that he’s here he’s probably trying a little bit too hard, trying to finish strong.
“I kind of want him just to relax, and really focus on staying in the middle of the field.
“Look, I played this game for a long time,” the veteran of 16 major league seasons said. “As I told these guys, there’s nothing wrong sometimes with getting jammed staying inside the baseball. It’s part of it. All good hitters have gone through that, instead of hitting the ball off the end of the bat and rolling over, I want to see him stay in there and try to hit the ball up the middle every now and then, it will definitely help him.”
García had a big night at the plate on Saturday in American Family Field, homering to right-center the first time up against Brewers’ starter Corbin Burnes, on a 1-2 cutter, low and over the middle of the plate which he hit 408 ft for his 7th HR of the season.
gar sEEEEEE YAAA— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 17, 2023
dictionary pronunciation pic.twitter.com/zdjWJTeVq4
García K’d swinging the second time up, chasing a 1-2 sinker out of the zone outside, but his third trip to the plate ended in a bases-loaded, two-out walk which got the Nationals within one run, 5-4, before García singled to right with two out in the eighth to keep the inning alive for Jake Alu, who singled to tie things up at 5-5, only for the home team to go ahead on a grand slam off of Kyle Finnegan in the bottom of the inning, 9-5.
“He played really well today,” Martinez said after the loss, noting how the second baseman also made two range-y plays up the middle on defense as well.
“For him it’s all about consistency. He played with some energy today. I want to see him do that for the next 10-12 games, 13, whatever it is, but I liked the way he played the game today. He stayed on the ball, he’s been working really hard with Six and Darnell, and he stayed on the ball today and smoked a home run and then really stayed on another ball and got a big base hit and a walk for us, and made some unbelievable defensive plays up the middle. It was awesome. So he had a good day.”
The walk, in particular, in a spot where he might have tried to do too much to make things happen, stood out to his manager as a positive sign of García’s growth.
“It’s good. We need more of that. Now it’s about — we know he can do it — now it’s just about consistency. He’s got to go out there and do it on a regular basis. Not chase. When he gets the ball in the strike zone, he can hit. And a lot of our guys are that way. We got to shrink the strike zone a little bit, get the ball in the zone, and these guys put the bat on the ball and hit the ball hard, so if we can get that consistently we’re going to do some damage.”