Thomas finding consistency in leadoff spot

Lane Thomas is on a heater this month. In 23 games so far in May, he's slashing .326/.367/.620 with a .987 OPS, four doubles, a triple, all seven of his season’s home runs, 15 RBIs and 19 runs scored.

That’s a complete 180-degree turnaround from April, when he hit slashed .260/.327/.302 with a .629 OPS and just four extra-base hits.

Thomas is hoping he can take his production this month and stay consistent throughout the season. One correlation to his strong May is his consistent place atop the Nationals lineup. It may not be the exact reason, but there are definitely parallels.

“I don't know if it has to do with just leadoff or not leadoff,” Thomas said. “I think I've said this before just trying to be a little more consistent at the plate was just my focus this offseason and spring training and now. Just being more consistent with getting swings off in good counts and just get a little confidence in doing that.”

The 27-year-old only hit leadoff eight times over his 25 games in April, with Alex Call getting most of the at-bats in the top spot. But starting May 6, Thomas been put in the leadoff spot in every game he’s played since. Over those 18 games, he’s slashing .325/.374/.571 with a .945 OPS, four doubles, five homers, 11 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

“Just have a plan for everybody. Not give at-bats away,” Thomas said of his approach as a leadoff hitter. “I think in the past, I've had some success off and on, but it never was consistent. So that was a big thing. Just what was making me good and what was I getting off of. And I feel like I was getting a little passive in certain situations. Just trying to be aggressive in those counts and whether you're supposed to take a cut or not.”

That on-and-off success was on display last season, when he was on-and-off the leadoff hitter. In 2022, Thomas took at least one at-bat in every spot in the batting order, but hit in the No. 1 spot the most, slashing .219/.298/.352 for a .650 OPS.

He’s not attributing batting leadoff directly to his sustained success. But he’s not discounting it either.

“I think that's good, too,” he said. “Just knowing where you're going to be most days, so I think that just helps the mentality knowing exactly when you're going to hit and what inning and leading off. Just in different situations. So yeah, I think that can be part of it, too.”

“Leadoff hitters are a lot different than they used to be 20 years ago,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But he gets on the fastball, he gets things going. So we're looking for him to hit, we're looking for him to drive the ball. I tell them, hey, you hit first, walk second. Get a good pitch to hit. If he walks great, but we're looking for him to go up there and get the fastballs and be on time. And he's done a really good job with that. At the beginning, he was struggling. I didn't want to put all those at-bats on him. Call was swinging the bat well, that's why we did what we did. And once he got going, we thought to make the switch and get him back up there.”

So what’s a leadoff hitter’s job in Thomas’ eyes? Is it just getting on base? Is it trying to get into scoring position?

“I think it's just more simple than that,” he said. “I think it's just putting a good at-bat together to start the game and setting that precedent of this guy's gonna have to grind to get me out and the rest of the guys behind me. So that's my plan. It's just, if he throws me something good to hit, I'm gonna hit hard. Or if not, I'm gonna fight and try to get something hard to hit.”

“Right now, it's good that he's getting the chance because whether it's right-handed or left-handed, he's hitting the ball really well,” Martinez said. “Those guys up at the top of the lineup are doing well. So he's getting a chance to hit up there.”

With his consistent production from the spot and flashing leadoff potential, is that where Thomas projects to hit long term?

“Who knows?” Martinez said. “If we get a guy that can steal 100 bases one day, he might have to hit second.”

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