Robles aiming for winter ball after ending year on IL

ATLANTA – When he last appeared in a ballgame for the Nationals, Victor Robles was enjoying one of the best-sustained stretches of his career. Over 126 plate appearances to begin the season, the enigmatic center fielder was batting .299 with a .385 on-base percentage and a revamped approach at the plate that had club officials as encouraged as they had been in a long time.

That, unfortunately, was way back on June 20. Which was six weeks removed from the initial back injury that ruined his season.

Robles hasn’t been back on the field since, and today he ends the season on the 60-day injured list, his 2023 campaign wasted, his future with the organization up in the air.

There has been progress in recent months, just not enough to get Robles into actual baseball activities. But the Nationals are hopeful he’ll be ready for that soon, and that he will be able to participate in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic to help make up for all the lost time.

“We think his back is healthy right now,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s doing his rehab workouts. He’s going to begin baseball workouts soon. And hopefully he’ll get some time in the winter league and recoup some of the at-bats he missed with all the injuries this year.”

Even if he does all that and proves he’s healthy again, Robles’ future with the Nats is unclear. The club holds a $3.3 million option on him for 2024. He’s still only 26. But he hasn’t come close to realizing his full potential over a full season since his rookie campaign in 2019. And with a horde of top outfield prospects potentially set to debut sometime next season, the Nationals may not believe it’s worth it to bring Robles back at that price.

Publicly, the organization continues to stand behind him.

“You’re looking at a player that as a rookie, as a kid, performed terrifically on the big stage,” Rizzo said. “We know who he is. We just need to get him back to that 2019 level.”

Whether Robles heads to the Dominican or not, the Nationals will have a representative group of players in winter ball. Second baseman Luis García is expected to play in the Dominican. Third baseman Carter Kieboom plans to play in Mexico. Others are on the list as well.

“Some of our younger guys are probably going to play. We’re trying to decide whether to play them in the first half or the second half,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I wanted Carter to play, because he missed so much time, to get more at-bats. … I talked to these guys. A lot of them asked to play, and I said it doesn’t hurt to play. I want Luis to go play. He’s going to play in the Dominican. If it’s available for them, we’ll try to get them on a team. Especially some of the guys that didn’t get the at-bats they wanted or the innings. Some of these guys do need a little rest, though. I’d rather see them rest and get ready for spring training.”

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