Garcia's red-hot trip, Meneses' surge, Kuhl's rehab

SAN FRANCISCO – Hits are coming in bunches for Luis García right now. The Nationals will happily take them from their young second baseman.

With a 2-for-5 showing Monday night during the Nats’ 5-1 win over the Giants, García continued a torrid week at the plate. He’s now 10-for-18 on this West Coast road trip, having produced multiple hits in each of the team’s four games to date.

García’s offensive surge has actually been going on longer than that, though. On the morning of April 27, he sported a weak .209/.260/.328 slash line, leaving him with a paltry .589 OPS. In 12 games since, he has slashed a robust .378/.408/.556, raising his season OPS to .739. That actually ranks tops among all active regulars in the Nationals lineup through 35 games.

What changed?

“I changed a little bit; I raised my hands a little bit, and that’s helped,” García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “But to be honest, I think it’s just the work. Putting in the work to maintain my focus out there every at-bat. I’m going to keep working and keep my focus the same as it’s always out there on every at-bat.”

The biggest difference for García might well be a newfound patience at the plate. One of the sport’s biggest free swingers, he finished the 2022 season with an unsightly 40.8 percent chase rate on pitches out of the zone, more than 12 points higher than the league average. He has reduced that chase rate to 23 percent this season, 5 points below the league average.

“Which is awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said. “That’s something we worked with him on for almost a year now, and he’s getting better. He’s understanding who he is and what ball he wants to hit. He’s doing really well.”

García also continues to shine in the field. He and shortstop CJ Abrams combined to turn four double plays during Monday night’s win. He did make an errant throw after fielding a chopper well to his left, but the official scorer ruled it a hit, so García’s streak of errorless baseball to begin the season is now up to 30 games played.

“Other than today, the throw, I love the way he’s playing the game,” Martinez said. “He’s running the bases well. He’s playing good defense. … He’s playing the game the way we felt like he could play the game.”

* Also enjoying a nice, prolonged stretch of success at the plate is Joey Meneses, who went 2-for-4 on Monday to raise his batting average to .283. That’s nearly a 60-point increase over his last 16 games.

On April 22, Meneses was batting .227/.266/.333, with worries beginning to surface about his inability to turn last season’s out-of-nowhere emergence into something more permanent. In 16 games since then, the 31-year-old is batting .343/.352/.400, driving in 10 runs.

* Chad Kuhl has made quick progress in his return from a right foot injury. The right-hander is slated to pitch in a simulated game this afternoon, barely a week after he went on the 15-day IL.

Kuhl, who struggled as the Nationals’ No. 5 starter to begin the season, may not be assured of rejoining the rotation once deemed healthy. Jake Irvin’s emergence as a viable big league pitcher through his first two starts could prompt the club to find some other role for Kuhl, who is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without risk of losing him.

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