LOS ANGELES – Davey Martinez has tried all manner of lineup combinations this season, trying to find some arrangement that produces runs in bunches while keeping Juan Soto and Josh Bell in a position to drive in as many runs as possible. Tonight, the Nationals manager decided to go back to an idea he last toyed with in 2021: Victor Robles leading off.
Yes, for the first time this season Robles is the Nats’ No. 1 hitter for tonight’s series opener against the Dodgers. It’s a role the organization has always hoped he would seize, but to date he hasn’t.
Now, on the heels of a solid weekend in Arizona, Robles is getting another shot atop the order.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Martinez said. “He’s swinging the bat well. You think about what he does when he gets on base. He causes a bunch of havoc. So I talked to him today, and I told him I want you to lead off.”
This isn’t expected to be a one-and-done opportunity for Robles, either. Martinez said he intends to stick with this look for the foreseeable future, hoping the 25-year-old center fielder makes the most of it.
“I’m going to lead him off for a while, and see what he does,” the manager said. “He’s done it in the minor leagues and had success with it. I wanted to see if we could jumpstart our offense some, see if we could get some kind of energy.”
This is the 47th time Robles has led off in the big leagues, 27 of those coming last season when he struggled to get on base (his slash line was a meager .198/.286/.293).
At the time, there was a fear Robles was trying too hard to be a traditional leadoff hitter, working the count, seeking walks, playing small ball. The end result was poor production overall. This time around, the Nationals don’t want him to go into these games with any different mindset than he already had.
“Our conversation was just: ‘Don’t change anything that you’re doing right now,” Martinez said. “He’s working really hard on his swing. He’s having some success right now, and he’s working with (hitting coach Darnell Coles) every single day. I want him to continue to do that. Nothing changes, just the fact he’s going to get up there. I told him: Just play the game. If the game dictates that you’ve got to bunt, then bunt. If you go up there and you’ve got to move the guy over, move the guy over. For me, it’s about trying to get you on base and letting you be you. Steal bases for us, and help us win games.”
Robles has shown some improvement over the last month, typically batting ninth. In his last 17 games, he’s batting .267/.327/.400. And he was in the middle of everything this weekend, from homering off Madison Bumgarner on Saturday (and being called “a clown” by the veteran lefty for celebrating that solo shot) to getting thrown out trying to steal third during Sunday’s win.
Robles plays with emotion, but there’s a fine line for him between using that emotion to his advantage and letting it get the best of him.
“I always worry about that, because he’s that kind of guy,” Martinez said. “When he’s out there and he’s doing stuff, he plays with all that energy and passion. When I talked to him today, it’s about controlling himself a little bit, and understanding the game. We’ll see. If it goes well, he’s going to help us. He’s got those big guys behind him in the lineup. Hopefully he’ll get on base, and these guys can drive him in.”