Crews hits first homer, Corbin continues cutter work in win

JUPITER, Fla. – Dylan Crews has grabbed a lot of attention at Nationals spring training, and rightfully so as last summer’s No. 2 overall pick. But it’s been James Wood who has taken a lot of the spotlight with the highlight reel he has put together so far in camp.

It was only a matter of time before Crews joined him.

The Nationals’ top prospect finally hit his first home run in Grapefruit League play this afternoon in what would be a 9-3 win over the Marlins at damp Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

“It felt pretty good,” Crews said of his first dinger. “I was hoping a little sooner than later, but it felt good to get a barrel in and help the team win today. I think the off-day helped a lot just physically and mentally just to kind of get the feet underneath me again. But yeah, it was a great day to day all around: pitching, defensively and the bats were really hot today. So it was a great day.”

Facing former Nats farmhand Jesús Luzardo, Crews hit a low-and-outside 3-1 changeup to straightaway center field. The ball came 102.4 mph off his bat and landed 393 feet away, just over the fence and out of reach of the glove of a leaping Victor Mesa Jr.

“That's what we see,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He stays in the middle of the field. He's got a lot of power to all fields. But to see him stay on a couple of balls today like that was really, really impressive. So it was a good day for him. He's a baseball player. He's the first one in the cage. He comes ready to play. So that's awesome.”

Crews just missed his first homer in his first at-bat against Luzardo, instead settling for a leadoff double to deep right-center on the first pitch. He then scored on Luis García Jr.’s two-run homer to right in the next at-bat.

“I think that's kind of my approach, really,” Crews said of being able to go the opposite way. “It's something that I need to hone in and work on is just having that approach all the time.”

In his third and final at-bat in the fifth, Crews hit a grounder right at third baseman Jake Burger, but his speed down the line caused a rushed throw that got away from Josh Bell at first. Two runs scored and Crews ended up at second on the throwing error to make it 8-2.

After hitting 18 home runs and winning the Golden Spikes Award last year with LSU, Crews entered the draft as one of top all-around position players. With the potential to go yard, he was more touted as a better average hitter instead of a slugger.

He hit five home runs in 14 games with Single-A Fredericksburg, but didn't hit one over his 20 games with Double-A Harrisburg. Baseball America rates his power as a 65 on a 20-80 grading scale. MLB Pipeline has it as a 60.

“Pretty good,” Crews said of how his power is coming along in camp. “It all comes to connecting on the pitches that they throw and just thinking less is more up there. You don't have to go up there and swing hard. These guys are going to do the work for me. So just taking it easy, taking nice, easy swings, and letting the pitcher do the work.”

Crews is now slashing .286/.444/.643 with a 1.087 OPS in eight spring training games.

* Patrick Corbin followed up his previous strong outing with another encouraging start.

Corbin put up three 1-2-3 frames in his four total innings. While retiring the first seven batters in order, he recorded his two strikeouts to close the second frame.

“I feel great with everything,” the 34-year-old southpaw said. “I thought today we did a good job of mixing up pitches well, getting ahead early, a lot of strikes, pounding the zone, using all my pitches and better sequences. So I'm just happy with that. Glad we were able to get it in today and get four ups and continue to build from there.”

He whiffed Avisaíl García on a 91-mph fastball and then got Christian Bethancourt to miss an 81-mph slider.

“Just getting ahead with quality pitches and putting them in swing mode,” Corbin said. “Get some ground balls and some easy fly balls. I think when you throw strikes, that forces them to swing and I'm able to mix things up. I mixed up the slider and the cutter and the fastball well. And threw some changeups early. So just a good combination of everything.”

While he still threw his slider 40 percent of the time, Cobin continued to work on his new cutter. Throwing it nine times (19 percent), he topped out at 86 mph and averaged 84 mph with the pitch.

The veteran left-hander was charged with two runs in third when he gave up a double to former University of Maryland player Marty Costes and then a two-run homer to Griffin Conine. The homer came off an 84-mph cutter up in the middle of the zone.

“I think I like it,” Corbin said of his new offering. “The homer today was just middle-up there. Not really knowing that hitter too well, but I probably wanted it away a little bit more. But sometimes that happens. I think other than that all the pitches were kind of where I wanted them. I've had some success with the cutter so far this camp, so just looking forward to using that.”

Corbin’s now has a 4.15 ERA, 0.923 WHIP, 10 strikeouts and no walks this spring.

“It's awesome,” Martinez said of Corbin’s lack of walks. “He’s starting to get that cutter and changeup combination with the fastball. It looks good.”

* García’s homer came off an 82-mph slider from Luzardo high in the zone for his first extra-base hit and RBIs of spring. It traveled 370 feet with a 97 mph exit velocity.

“He got the ball up,” Martinez said. “He's quiet. He knew he had a job to do and he stayed on the ball really well. That was good. We gotta get him to continue to do that and be more consistent.”

Victor Robles went back-to-back with his first homer on an outside 87-mph changeup. He smacked it 100 mph off the bat and 401 feet to center field for his first extra-base hit and second RBI of exhibition play.

“He's gotta stay in the middle of the field as well,” Martinez said. “Not try to do too much, but when he does that, you see what can happen. We got to keep talking to him, keep practicing and get him to understand he's got to clean up and start slowing things down. He's putting good at-bats together.”

Although still young by major league standards, the two Nationals veterans are still looking to get going offensively after sluggish starts to Grapefruit League play and with top prospects breathing down their necks.

* Wood wasn’t without his own highlight today, still making it a daily occurrence.

Pinch-running for Lane Thomas, who led off the fifth with a single to left, Wood flew from first to third on a bloop single by Joey Meneses to shallow left field. It was as if Costes in left didn’t expect the 6-foot-6 outfielder to continue past second base, and by the time Costes realized he was, Wood was already standing on third.

“I don't expect him to be that fast, honestly,” Martinez said. “And then all of a sudden, he's two feet from the base. But he's got those strides. It's incredible. It doesn't really look like he's running, but he's gaining ground.”

An impressive display of speed, athleticism and awareness by the young prospect.

* Out of the bullpen, Derek Law and Luis Perdomo had perfect innings with one strikeout each.

Hunter Harvey was charged with a run and two hits in the seventh while also striking out two.

Kyle Finnegan gave up a hit and recorded a strikeout in the eighth.

And left-handed prospect Mitchell Parker gave up a hit in the ninth, but sealed the win with a double-play ball on an up-and-in fastball.

“Good. He's always around the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff is good. He's utilizing the top of the zone with his fastball. He's got a good breaking pitch, a good changeup. He's been good.”

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