As each day passes and Joey Meneses’ numbers keep climbing, the question keeps getting asked and the answer keeps sounding more plausible.
"I don't think the way he hit was a fluke," Davey Martinez said this morning of his 30-year-old rookie sensation. "I think the kid knows how to hit."
All the evidence to date backs up that assertion, and Meneses only bolstered the case with another standout performance today during the Nationals’ 13-4 trouncing of the Phillies in the rain-delayed opener of a rescheduled day-night doubleheader.
With a single, a double, a homer, a walk and four RBIs, Meneses added to his growing resume. Throw in a 440-foot moonshot from Luke Voit, a three-run homer and two RBI singles from Luis García and another dominant bullpen performance, and the Nats cruised to victory over a Philadelphia club that fell back into a tie with the Brewers for the final wild card berth in the National League with five games to go.
Meneses, as he’s so often done since bursting onto the scene Aug. 2, led the way at the plate. His bases-loaded double past a lunging Alec Bohm at third base keyed a five-run bottom of the second. Then his leadoff homer to right-center in the fifth extended the Nationals’ lead after the Phillies tried to claw their way back into the game.
"The most important thing was the fact I helped the team win," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Obviously, personal accolades are important as well, because it helps my future. But the most important thing is to help the team win, which I did today. It feels great."
This was Meneses’ 51st big league game, and he’s now the proud owner of a .332 batting average, 14 doubles, 13 homers, 33 RBIs and a .961 OPS. He probably debuted too late to make a serious run at the NL Rookie of the Year Award, but it’s not outrageous at this point to consider his case.
"Absolutely," García said, also with Martinez interpreting. "From the first day I saw him in Triple-A, I knew that's the kind of hitter he was, and he could contribute at this level. He's a great hitter."
Meneses has five more games to add to his rookie totals. Then we’ll spend all winter waiting to find out if he can do this all over again in 2023.
"I believe that next year I still have to keep doing what I'm doing, showing them that I belong up here," he said. "I don't think I'll be given a job automatically for next season. Hopefully, I get the opportunity next year to keep doing what I'm doing, and show them what I can do."
García has had more time to show the Nationals what he can do over parts of the last three seasons. He put it all together today with a 3-for-5 performance that included an RBI single to the opposite field and a three-run homer pulled to right-center, each on pitches out of the strike zone.
"To be honest, I base it a lot on the umpire," García said of his decisions about whether to swing at pitches off the plate or not. "If the umpire has a bigger zone, I make my zone a little bigger. If not, and it's smaller, then I try to concentrate and focus in on more particular pitches."
All the run support today benefited Aníbal Sánchez, who emerged with his fourth win in his last eight starts. The 38-year-old entered on a sustained stretch of dominance (1.31 ERA over his previous seven starts) that almost defied explanation: In none of those outings did the 38-year-old surrender more than two runs or four hits.
The odds of Sánchez keeping that streak alive today against a potent Phillies lineup felt slim, and sure enough he labored through his worst start in a month and a half, though he still managed to keep things from completely falling apart.
Sánchez’s teammates didn’t exactly help him out much, either, certainly not during a woeful attempt to stop a double-steal in the top of the first. With Kyle Schwarber leading off third base, Bryce Harper took off from first, then paused halfway down the line, trying to induce a throw. Riley Adams took the bait, firing down to second base, where García caught the ball and then tried to fire back to the plate, only to airmail his throw and allow Schwarber to easily score.
"Riley did the right thing," manager Martinez said, citing the play the Nationals had called for just that situation. "He got the ball to him quick. Luis came in, and he just airmailed it. We knew that. We thought we'd have a chance to get Schwarber if he did run. And if he throws the ball down, he's out by 10 feet."
A three-run fourth, featuring two doubles, two singles and a walk, did fall on Sánchez’s shoulders and nearly wiped out the big lead his teammates had supplied him. But when he needed to get out of the inning with that lead intact, he got Rhys Hoskins to ground out. And when he retired the side the following inning, Sánchez had completed five frames and was in line for the win.
He got that win in what figures to be his last start of the season. Whether he's back here next season remains to be seen, but Sánchez continues to insist he's not done.
"I would like to keep pitching," he said. "Let's see which team is going to give me the opportunity for next year."
Would he like the Nationals to give him that opportunity?
"Definitely," he said. "I feel at home here. And this is the team that gave me the opportunity this year to show that I can still play. Why not, if they give me another chance?"