Luis GarcÃa, 20, is gaining valuable experience as he goes along in his first season in the major leagues. With each game, GarcÃa has moments when he looks the part and moments when it's clear he is still learning.
On Tuesday night in the Nationals' 6-0 loss to the Phillies, GarcÃa delivered on a one-out double against Phillies starter Aaron Nola, but then later struck out twice on a steady diet of knuckle-curves.
"Once he goes through this league and he understands what they are going to do, he will start making adjustments," said manager Davey Martinez on the postgame Zoom video call. "We all went through that as a young player. He stayed on a changeup and hit it to left field, which was kind of nice. Then the breaking balls came and he just couldn't lay off them. I tell him with two strikes, we want to see the ball up. He can hit a fastball up.
"I told him. 'You got to get the balls up. When they make a mistake up there you got to be ready to hit it.' Everything was down. They were throwing those knuckle-curves down and in to him. That's a tough pitch for a left-handed hitter. It just goes down to your back foot and you're swinging over them."
Nola was outstanding, twirling eight shutout innings, allowing only two hits and striking out nine. So it wasn't just GarcÃa who had trouble with the Phillies right-hander.
"First at-bat, I was actually looking for the changeup and he started me off with the fastball," GarcÃa said via team translator Octavio Martinez. "I sat on a changeup second pitch and I hit it, made good contact with it. The next two at-bats, I was also looking for the same pitch, the changeup. He threw some good pitches, he worked me a lot better and I was obviously unable to make contact. His approach was much different. I was still looking for that changeup, but he threw me some really good pitches."
GarcÃa could not field a grounder off the bat of Jay Bruce in the sixth inning. The rookie second baseman appeared to pick his head up to prepare to throw the ball to second base for a potential double play. But the ball dropped out of his glove and the error allowed everyone to be safe. It was the beginning of a four-run, three-hit rally for the Phillies that seemingly put the game away.
"That particular play right there, he tried to throw the ball before he caught it," Davey Martinez said. "He just got to set his feet, just get one out first. Don't try to be too quick. To me, that's just a kid that's 20 years old that's trying to do a just little too much. He needs to just slow the game down. He will learn. He's going to learn that. He's been good."
GarcÃa said he is not going to let that one play define his game. Yes, he didn't make the play this time, but he understands what he needs to do to make it happen next time when that scenario plays out in front of him.
"It's part of the game," GarcÃa said. "It's things that happen through the course of the game. I felt like I attacked, probably, a little too aggressively. That's what I was told, too. But it is stuff that we work on. All I can do is come out tomorrow, work on it, make sure I improve as much as I can, hopefully next time make the play."
Let's not forget GarcÃa played one season in Double-A. One. He never even played one game at the Triple-A level before joining the Nats this season. At the major league level, he has a grand total of 16 games under his belt. If second baseman Starlin Castro had not broken his wrist, GarcÃa would most likely still be at the alternate training site. This season has been accelerated. GarcÃa is learning at the highest level.
"I feel like I have learned a lot of things up here," GarcÃa said. "Most importantly, I think it's my focus for the at-bat on the particular pitcher that I am facing. Trying to notice what his approach is to the hitter previous to my at-bat, paying attention to that. In terms of my body, just trying to stay balanced."
On defense, that focus is looking for a way to slow the game down.
"What I try to do is focus, concentrate a little bit more," GarcÃa said. "Get my reps in and feel more comfortable and not let a lot of thoughts go through my head, not think too much out there. That's how I kind of slow myself down."
GarcÃa is realistic. But he also believes in his talent and that he deserves to be here. He is not going to let one play or one at-bat define him in this first season.
What has GarcÃa learned in his first few weeks in the big leagues?
"The thing that I have learned the most is to have more self-confidence," GarcÃa said. "To believe more in myself and make sure I work a lot more out there, which I feel I hadn't been in the past. Definitely put more work into my game."