Recently, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo provided great insight on Andrew Stevenson as the potential fourth outfielder heading into 2021, taking on the role owned by Michael A. Taylor the past six seasons.
Stevenson ended the season on a flurry, hitting .417 over the final 12 games of 2020. The LSU star enjoyed a .488 on-base percentage the final two weeks, making it very difficult for the opposing pitcher to record an out with him at the plate.
Nats outfielder/baserunning coordinator Gary Thurman had an inside view as to why Stevenson might have been able to relax in the batter's box and in the outfield this past season.
"Andrew is such a competitor and he wants to do everything perfectly. He wants to make every single play," Thurman said. "I think what I have seen out of him is he has become a more relaxed ballplayer and is letting the game come to him instead of kind of forcing it. He is a lot more level-headed and mentally in tune with the situation and what is going to happen."
Thurman said the 26-year-old outfielder came to the realization recently that he does not have to record an out on defense in every play that comes his way. Stevenson understands that the highlight-reel play is not always there to make, that conceding a base hit every once in a while might be a good thing, instead of allowing extra-base hits or committing an error when trying to make a "hero" play.
"We have always known he was going to be a good outfielder," Thurman said of Stevenson. "He makes great plays but he has got to understand he is not going to make every single one of them. Sometimes in situations you have to give (them) a hit - a single - instead of trying to make every single play and end up giving him a double or a triple, get someone in scoring position because the situation of the game dictates, 'Hey, we need these guys to beat us on two or three hits. So I am not going to be aggressive in the outfield and turn that maybe out into a double.' "
Thurman said that way of thinking on defense is critical to not giving the opponent the shot at a big inning because of one misplay. By allowing just a single on a hard-hit ball close to you that you could have dived for, a smart outfielder prevents a ball from rolling all the way to the wall and a batter from ending up at third base.
"You have given your team a chance," Thurman said. "The great plays are going to happen, but we can't force them."
So not only has Stevenson demonstrated he can hit and make every at-bat difficult for the opposing pitcher, he also has learned that he does not have to make every play to be a successful outfielder.