WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Luis García is an energetic personality in the Nationals clubhouse.
Ever since he made his major league debut with the team back during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he’s been the fun-loving, goofy kid on the team.
It’s even more noticeable now that he has a partner-in-crime in CJ Abrams.
What else can you expect from two 22-year-olds playing a game for a living?
García’s skills with a bat in his hands have been clear since he went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run scored in his debut three years ago: He can hit.
Where he fits in the field has been more of a work in progress. Coming up as a shortstop since signing with the Nationals as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2016, García has found more success defensively at second base, where he now plays full time while Abrams mans short.
Now that he has his place in the field and has shown his ability to hit, the Nationals have asked one thing of him this offseason and spring: Slow down.
That doesn’t mean stop being who he is. He is still seen around the clubhouse joking around with teammates, coaches and even us media members.
The Nationals want him to be more patient at the plate and more calm in the field to complete more plays.
García had his breakout performance of spring training on Friday against Max Scherzer and the Mets.
The Nationals know García can put his bat on the ball and is much better defensively at second base than he was at shortstop. They want him to draw more walks and limit the errors in the field.
García showed he’s improved in both of those areas on Friday.
After grounding out in his first at-bat against Scherzer, García launched a two-run home run on a high-inside fastball, his first homer of the spring. In the sixth inning against reliever Adam Ottavino, he hit an RBI single on a slightly outside changeup.
But what was most impressive, at least in the eyes of García and manager Davey Martinez, was his six-pitch walk against All-Star closer Edwin Díaz in the fourth inning. Díaz was a bit erratic, sure, but García only swung at the two pitches remotely near the strike zone and took his base.
“I have a walk today. So that's cool,” said García excitedly after his day was done Friday. “That's good on me. I think it's good for me. More focused on the play and stayed middle to the other way. And I think that's a good point for me for this year.”
“The thing for me was the walk,” Martinez said. “He worked a walk, and for him that's a challenge, and he was excited about that. But I told him when you don't chase, you can do those things. He had a good day at the plate. I was happy for him.”
In 377 plate appearances over 93 major league games last year, García only drew 11 walks for a 2.9 walk rate. Both ranked dead last in the major leagues of the players with at least 350 plate appearances.
To increase his walks, García needs to cut down his chase rate, which would show a more patient and selective approach at the plate. He swung at 43.7 percent of the pitches he saw outside of strike zone last year, which was 10th-highest of all big leaguers with at least 350 plate appearances.
“With Luis, we talked a lot about him chasing and trying to get the ball up in the zone and keeping the ball in the strike zone,” Martinez said. “And when he does that, he can hit.”
Defensively, the Nationals aren’t too concerned about García making highlight-reel plays at second base. They would rather see him take his time and make the routine plays on a consistent basis.
He did make one throwing error on Friday when he seemed to rush the play. But he collected himself and was calm in making two routine plays later in the game.
“The errors happen sometimes,” García said of what his manager affectionately called a “hiccup.” “I see the ground ball, I catch the ball and my body's a little bit lazy. I throw the ball a little bit (away). And next time, I'm a little bit angry, but I'm gonna focus a little bit more. I see the ball and I try to throw a good throw. That's it.”
“The biggest thing with him is that, we tell him all time, is that he's got to stay in his legs when he throws. Just like hitting,” Martinez said. “You got to stay in your legs to throw the ball. Follow your throw. When he comes up to throw, balls go everywhere. We'll keep working with him. He understands it. He knows.”
The Nationals don’t want García to lose what makes him a good baseball player and fun teammate. They just want him to slow his process down a bit on the field.
Ironically, it’s something he’s quickly picking up.
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