Outfielder Andrew Stevenson played in 30 games for the Nationals last season and became a solid contributor off the bench, hitting .367 with a .486 OBP.
The talented left-handed hitter is only 25, and has played in the majors over parts of the past three seasons. He made an appearance in one postseason game last year, scoring a crucial run against the Brewers in the 4-3 wild card win. Stevenson scored the tying run on Juan Soto's two-run single in the bottom of the eighth to help put the Nats on top.
Stevenson has always put up good numbers in the minor leagues, but as he got closer to the bigs, the 2015 second-rounder out of LSU understood how much tougher it was going to be to get hits. The Nats saw in Stevenson's swing what they needed to do to make subtle changes.
"Stevenson never failed in the minor leagues," said Nationals minor league hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich. "Stevie, wherever he went, he hit. There is a lot of things he does. He has got a late rush with his hands. He doesn't really use his legs a lot, but wherever he goes, he gets it to work. In the back of our minds, we felt the higher he goes up, it may not work. It's hard to tell a guy who is crushing at every level he's been to, 'Hey, you still got to make some adjustments.' But it's good for him to get to Triple-A and the big leagues and realize there are some things he has got to work on to get better."
Gingrich said Stevenson embraced these slight tweaks to his approach. These changes worked well to the tune of a .334/.383/.503 slash line for Triple-A Fresno over 73 games last season.
"Stevie listened to our advice and took it," Gingrich said. "Him and (Fresno hitting coach Brian Daubach) got into a routine where he was much quieter with his hands and we got him to get his lower half in a better position. Knowing those two things and then talking to him about who he is as a player - stop worrying about trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark (and) getting back to using the whole field. Once he got the mentality back of using the whole field and thinking, 'I don't have to try to hit homers, let me just be who I am,' that's when you got to see everything kind of open up."
In the abbreviated spring training this season, Stevenson excelled taking these slight adjustments in his approach to heart. The Lafayette, La., native slashed .276/.400/.310 in 15 games. Stevenson focused on being himself, hitting the ball to the gaps and getting on base while not worrying about trying to hit home runs.
"He had a great spring training this year," Gingrich said. "He was good. He is in a really good spot now. He's getting into a stronger position with his lower half. Just focus on being himself and having good, solid at-bats by hitting to all fields, that's kind of been an eye-opening thing for him. Like Howie Kendrick has said, 'You just got to be you.' Stevenson's got that now where he can be himself. He's going to have a good at-bat. They are not big adjustments, they are small adjustments that most people can't see. But we know the small adjustments he has made and it has helped him out tremendously."
Prior to the coronavirus shutdown, Stevenson was sent to Double-A Harrisburg. Even though Stevenson would have preferred a spot on the 26-man opening day, this was a good sign that the Nats wanted him close so they could call him up quickly if necessary.
"In his role, a guy who comes off the bench and plays every three to five days, keep it simple.," Gingrich said. "There's not a lot of timing that he needs. The more he does, it and continues to have quality at-bats coming off the bench. That's a hard thing to do. If you are successful in that role, managers really, really like those guys. He is such a great kid, too."
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