Lane Thomas has become one of the Nationals’ hottest hitters down the stretch of this season, owner of a .357 batting average, .419 on-base percentage and .991 OPS over his last 13 games. And his leadoff homer Saturday helped set the tone for his team’s 5-3 win over the Marlins.
So why isn’t Thomas in the Nats’ lineup for today’s series finale? Consider the numbers against Miami’s starter this afternoon: Thomas is 0-for-11 with six strikeouts in his career against Sandy Alcantara.
Not that anybody has particularly good numbers against Alcantara, who could be on his way to the first Cy Young Award of his career. But in this case, the numbers are so striking, manager Davey Martinez didn’t want to risk Thomas falling into a slump via one bad game at the plate against an ace.
“He’s been swinging the bat well. And I want him to continue to swing the bat well,” Martinez said with a laugh. “I saw the numbers as well, and I thought he’s been playing every day. He’s been playing a lot. I know we’ve had some days off, but I thought give him a day, a little breather, and keep him going.”
Indeed, Thomas has started 30 consecutive games, so he certainly has earned a day off at this point. But he’s also been quite productive during this stretch. Over his last 28 games, he’s batting .310 with seven doubles, a triple, six homers, 14 RBIs and a .913 OPS.
It’s reminiscent of Thomas’ August and September surge one year ago, when he arrived from the Cardinals and immediately made an impact to perhaps change the organization’s outlook about his potential role in the long-term picture.
The season as a whole hasn’t played out as well as Thomas or the Nationals would’ve hoped. As recently as Aug. 16, he was batting .231 with a .671 OPS. But this late increase in production has made everything look better.
“He’s been a lot more aggressive,” Martinez said. “And we talk a lot about him getting on the fastball. He’s a very good fastball hitter. But look at location. Look at where you can hit it hard. And he’s been doing that very well. You see the power numbers going up, a spike in hits. When he’s aggressive and gets the ball in the zone, he hits the ball well.”
* The Nationals announced Cory Abbott will start Monday’s series opener in Atlanta, with Patrick Corbin taking the mound Tuesday to face the Braves. They are not listing a starter for Wednesday’s game yet.
That would be Josiah Gray’s turn in the rotation, but Martinez has said they were thinking about giving the right-hander an extra couple days of rest again, pushing him back to next weekend’s series in Miami.
“I’m going to talk to (pitching coach Jim) Hickey today. We haven’t made a decision yet,” Martinez said. “We really thought about just staying on schedule, but I’ll let you know after the game.”
If Gray doesn’t start Wednesday, Paolo Espino would seem to be the likely choice to take his place. Interestingly enough, MacKenzie Gore’s pitching schedule lines up for Wednesday, but the left-hander is going to make at least one more rehab start for Triple-A Rochester before coming off the injured list.
“No, MacKenzie will not pitch,” Martinez said. “He’s going to continue to rehab.”