Lane Thomas went 0 for 3 with a sac fly RBI in the second of three with Chicago in D.C. this week on Tuesday night, grounding out to third base on a 94 MPH first-pitch sinker, low and in from White Sox right-hander José Ureña the first time up, with no one out and CJ Abrams on third base after a leadoff triple.
Thomas K’d swinging (on three pitches) to lead off the fourth, hit a first-pitch slider over the middle of the plate from Ureña to left for a sac fly with a runner on third and one out in the bottom of the sixth, then grounded out with two on, (at 1st and 2nd), and two out in the seventh inning, on a first-pitch cutter down in the zone outside from reliever Bryan Shaw.
The unproductive grounder to third base the first time up left him 9 for 32 (.281/.268/.375) with a runner on third and less than two outs on the season.
Thomas was 37 for 145 (.255/.303/.435) with runners in scoring position overall on the year after Tuesday’s game, and his propensity for swinging at the first pitch in those at-bats did catch his manager’s attention.
Davey Martinez was asked before the series finale with the White Sox on Wednesday about Thomas’s at-bats and production with a runner on third and less than two outs and in his at-bats with the bases loaded this season. What stood out in those at-bats?
“Pitch selection,” Martinez said. “He’s got to have a better plan up there with guys on base.
“If you noticed, he swings at the first pitch almost every time he has guys on base. So he’s got to understand what he wants to do.
“And it’s okay. Look, you got to be comfortable hitting behind in counts with guys on base, hit with two strikes, you got to have a plan, you’ve got to push the ball out. I always tell the guys, ‘When you got a guy on third base, where’s the one place you don’t want to hit the ball?’ It’s third base, right? I mean, infield back, you hit the ball to the shortstop, second baseman, you’re going to drive in a run. Yesterday he took a ball middle-in, hit it right to third base. I know ‘Six’ [Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler] talks to him a lot, he helps him out a lot, about, ‘What was your thinking there?’ And he said he was trying to get in front of a two-seamer. Well, what you should think is, ‘Get the ball up,’ because you know he’s going to throw you a two-seamer, get it out over the plate, something that you can hit up the middle of the field.’
“So that’s the next part of his learning process, because realistically he’s having a tremendous year, on both sides.
“Defensively, offensively, but he can get better. There’s a lot of runs — he should have close to — if not 100 RBIs by now, at least 90. But it’s something you’ve got to learn as a hitter, how to drive in those runs like that, but he’s definitely gotten way better, as we all see, so I’m proud of the way he’s gone about his business.”
With Abrams on second and no one out on Wednesday afternoon, starter Michael Kopech hit Thomas with an 0-1 slider (after Thomas took the first pitch of the at-bat), though he did get caught trying to steal second (as part of a double steal) in the next at-bat.
Thomas walked the second time up, against reliever Jesse Scholtens, then with the bases loaded and two out in the third, he stepped up and spit on a first-pitch fastball outside to get ahead and hit a 1-0 curve knee-high inside 425 ft. to left field for a grand slam, HR No. 26 on the year, and an 8-1 lead in what ended up a 13-3 win for the Nationals.
Unbothered. Moisturized. Happy. ️IN. ️HIS. ️LANE. Focused. Flourishing.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 20, 2023
GRAND SLAM LANE THOMAS pic.twitter.com/I9At6sJAc7
Thomas was just 1 for 13 (.077/.077/.077) with the bases loaded on the season, before hitting his second career grand slam, though he didn’t know he was 1 for 13 with the bases loaded on the season when he stepped up to connect for the slam ... or even after the game, until someone mentioned the fact.
“No, I didn’t know that but that you for letting me know,” Thomas told the reporter who’d noted the stat after the series finale.
Apparently some of the credit belongs to
Six, Hitting Coach Darnell Coles — Thomas’s wife?
“I’ll tell you right now,” Martinez said after the win, “... apparently his wife told him last night, ‘Stop swinging at balls.’ BAM. So I give her a lot of credit.”
“I got in the car last night and was kind of in a bad mood,” Thomas explained. “And she was just like, kind of just, ‘Suck it up and stop swinging at those pitches!’ which was kind of surprising that that came out of her mouth. So I was like, I can’t have her yelling at me after the game, so.”
Thomas did acknowledge the quick outs in key spots in recent games, and talked about the need to clean things up at the plate.
“The at-bats have been a little quick, and I’ve been putting pitches I shouldn’t into play,” he said.
“It’s just — end of the year,” Thomas offered.
“You get a little complacent and just — there’s a lot of games left, so we need to lock it in and try to win some games the last 10 or 9, or whatever we have left.”