Nats' lack of walks doesn't really concern Martinez

The Nationals entered play Wednesday last in the National League - and next-to-last in the majors - with just 128 walks for the season.

But for a team that prides itself on making contact, the lack of free passes isn't an issue for manager Davey Martinez.

"You go up there with a bat in your hand and you swing it, you know?" he said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. "I want these guys to be aggressive and if they get a ball they can hit, try to hit it hard and put it in play."

So what did the Nationals do in the first couple of innings of Wednesday night's game with the Reds? They patiently took advantage of Cincinnati right-hander Jeff Hoffman's control issues, drawing five walks before a sore right shoulder forced Hoffman from the game after two Nats had taken free passes in the second.

While walks may create run-scoring opportunities, count Martinez firmly in the camp of not wanting his hitters to be too focused on drawing a base on balls.

"If the ball's in the strike zone, I want these guys to be aggressive and try to hit it," he said. "These guys are getting balls to hit. If they're pumping strikes at us, I want these guys to be aggressive and hit balls that are in the strike zone - and hit 'em hard."

Savvy hitters know that, in any at-bat, there might be one or two pitches where damage can be done. And while the Nationals lineup is packed with knowledgeable veterans, they aren't necessarily guys who have made a career out of strolling to first base after ball four.

"Walks come when pitchers fall behind and stuff.," Martinez said. "Right now, guys are trying to get ahead, and ... we got a lot of guys that, when they do that, they make contact. They put the ball in play. That's something we've been really good at."

Lest you think the Nationals are employing an all-or-nothing approach, remember that they've got contact hitters Trea Turner and Juan Soto at the top of the lineup trying to set the table for the likes of Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro.

They'll take their walks - as they showed Wednesday night - but they aren't a one-dimensional group of hitters locked in on free passes.

Soto-Blue-With-Bat-Sidebar.jpgOf the regulars, only Soto has more walks than strikeouts. He drew two walks Wednesday to push his season total to 26 against 17 strikeouts. Schwarber has 46 strikeouts to 16 walks, Bell has 35 strikeouts to 10 walks, Turner 39 strikeouts to 11 walks and Castro 32 strikeouts to 13 walks. (Those stats include walks from Wednesday night's suspended game, which will be resumed at 2:05 p.m. Thursday as a nine-inning game, with a seven-inning, regularly scheduled series finale following at 7:05 p.m.)

Right now, if they don't get something they can connect with, the Nats will pass the baton and let the next guy up try to do some damage. And in those cases, an opposing pitcher will eventually need to come into the zone, especially if he's having trouble locating strikes.

To hear Martinez tell it, the scarcity of walks is a byproduct of aggressive hitters regularly doing what aggressive hitters are taught to do: waiting for a pitch in the strike zone and taking their hacks.

"I don't want to take away their aggressiveness," Martinez said, "but my biggest thing is (to) understand what their strike zone is and make sure you get a ball you can handle, that you can hit and hit hard."

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