Meneses understands need to make most of latest opportunity

DETROIT – Since the moment he burst onto the scene in August 2022, Joey Meneses has been a mainstay in the Nationals lineup. Whatever days off he had, they were scattered, even as his production at the plate dipped.

And then 2 1/2 weeks ago, with Lane Thomas off the injured list and the team now having a bit of a glut of outfielders and first basemen, Meneses suddenly became a part-time player for the first time. He started only seven of the Nats’ 15 games from May 27-June 11, relegated to the bench and a couple of pinch-hitting opportunities.

“Obviously I would like to be on the field more often, but my numbers are not where we expect them to be,” said Meneses, whose OPS was down to .581 at the time, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I definitely respect the manager’s decision with that. I just have to be ready whenever he calls upon me to play, be ready to help the team out.”

All of a sudden, Davey Martinez is calling upon Meneses to play again. When Joey Gallo strained his left hamstring running out a ground ball Tuesday night, Meneses was thrust back into the daily lineup, back to playing first base regularly.

And in his first start since the Gallo injury, he delivered. Meneses went 2-for-4 with an RBI single and a key double that led to another run during the Nationals’ 7-5 victory over the Tigers.

The double, in particular, was notable because it was a well-struck line drive down the left field line, a rare instance in which the struggling slugger has been able to pull the ball in the air this season.

“It felt great,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’m trying to do, to make sure I hit the ball with some power. And hopefully it continues.”

It’s easy to say you want to consistently hit the ball for power. It’s not easy to actually make it happen. Meneses has “barreled up” only 4.8 percent of his balls in play this season, down from 5.4 percent last season and way down from 9.9 percent during his breakthrough two months in 2022.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “I go up there with the intention of doing it every time, but obviously I don’t. Baseball itself is very difficult. I just hope I do it more often.”

One nice game isn’t going to turn Meneses’ entire season around, but he knows the pressure is on him perhaps like never before. The fact he already was spending more time on the bench the last two weeks underscores the organization’s growing impatience with his lack of production. There’s no guarantee he retains his job if he doesn’t show real improvement.

“We’ve got to get his bat going,” Martinez said prior to Wednesday’s game. “If we can get him to hit, he’s definitely going to help us. We want to see his bat come alive, start to drive the ball. If that happens, he’ll play every day.”

Meneses understands the situation. He’s been given opportunities for more than two years now. He knows this one could be the most important yet.

“Very important,” he said. “I need to take advantage of it. And hopefully things go a lot better this time.”

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