Hot-hitting Garrett earning everyday playing time

There was a time earlier this year when Davey Martinez would go out of his way to avoid having Stone Garrett face a right-hander. Garrett was one-half of the Nationals’ left field platoon, and he was only going to match up against those opposing pitchers he figured to have the most success against.

How far he’s come. These days, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound. No matter which arm the pitcher uses, Garrett is going to find himself at the plate.

“He’s going to get an opportunity,” Martinez said. “He’s earned the right to play right now.”

Garrett is playing a lot right now, far more than he has at any previous point in the season. Thursday marked his sixth straight game in the Nats lineup, even though three of those games were started by right-handers.

The Nationals never really envisioned this, but circumstances have brought them to this point. Garrett didn’t even make the Opening Day roster, losing out to Alex Call for the fourth outfielder’s job. But when Corey Dickerson suffered a calf injury only two days in, Garrett was called up from Triple-A Rochester. And he’s remained here ever since.

Initially part of a platoon with Dickerson, Garrett has more recently found himself getting more regular playing time. Once Dickerson was designated for assignment following the trade deadline, rookie Blake Rutherford was promoted from Triple-A. But Rutherford’s struggles, combined with Garrett’s success, seem to have all but killed the idea of a straight platoon.

“He’s going to get more of an opportunity to play against right-handed pitchers,” Martinez said. “You’ve seen I don’t often pinch-hit for him when he’s in the game, because I like the way he plays the game.”

Garrett actually owns a higher batting average (.280 to .263) and on-base percentage (.362 to .333) against righties than lefties at this point. He continues to slug more off lefties than righties (.517 to .400) but he spent much of this week proving he can still drive in runs off righties, often poking singles to the opposite field with runners in scoring position.

“I’m just trying to be on time, stay inside the ball and use the whole field,” he said. “I’m trying to hit it to right and just use the whole field.”

With a monster 1.062 OPS so far in August, Garrett has raised his season OPS to a healthy .810. That actually outpaces Lane Thomas’s .803 mark, which for most of the year has led the team’s regulars.

What does any of this mean for the 27-year-old’s long-term prospects in Washington? That remains to be seen.

The Nationals obviously have more highly touted outfielders waiting in the wings to make their major league debuts, either later this season or early next season. But until Dylan Crews, James Wood and Robert Hassell III are deemed ready, there will be an opportunity for current big leaguers to make a case for themselves.

Thomas has already done an admirable job of that this year, producing All-Star-worthy numbers in the first half, getting retained at the trade deadline and now positioning himself to remain the team’s starting right fielder for at least the next couple of years.

Garrett has a long way to go before establishing himself to that level. But he’s much further along in that process now than he was in April, when playing time was sparse.

It’s not easy for a player who has been pigeonholed into a platoon role to shake that label. Garrett, though, is making a case for himself.

“He’s understanding who he is,” Martinez said. “He still does chase a bit more against righties, but he understands what kind of hitter he is, and he’s being more selective up there at what he swings at. When he hits the ball, he hits it hard, as we all see.”

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