Lane Thomas knows his reputation. He’s been a streaky hitter ever since arriving in Washington at the 2021 trade deadline.
It really became noticeable last season, one that saw Thomas finish with a .705 OPS but only after experiencing the following month-by-month roller coaster: .496, .661, .864, .587, .775, .724. So the Nationals right fielder vowed to try to be more consistent this year, recognizing the importance of avoiding the long streaks (good or bad) that had come to define him.
And how has he done with that? Well, the .629 OPS he posted in April followed by the .944 mark he has delivered so far in May suggests he’s on his way to another roller-coaster season.
Unless Thomas can capture what he’s done this month and sustain something like it throughout the summer and into the fall. Which, of course, is easier said than done.
“I feel like I’m trying to be a little more consistent this year,” he said. “That’s something I wanted to focus on: What got me into a streak? I felt like I was a little streaky. I’d get a few hits one series last year, and then no hits. I’m just trying to be more consistent in approach and with at-bats late in games. Hopefully that’s paying off a little bit and I can keep doing it.”
There’s no denying how good Thomas has been since the calendar flipped from April to May. He began the month with zero homers. He has since hit six of them, taking over the team lead in that department until Jeimer Candelario caught him over the weekend.
Thomas has done this by mashing left-handed pitching to the tune of a .359/.433/.623 OPS across 60 plate appearances. He’s also done it by mashing fastballs. He’s batting .315 with a .457 slugging percentage off them this season, a marked improvement from last season when he hit .247 with a .410 slugging percentage.
The Nationals’ coaching staff has been strongly encouraging him to focus on swinging at hard stuff while laying off soft stuff.
“When he gets ready to hit the fastball, he’s really good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’ll stay consistent, but he’s got to get ready to hit the fastball.”
There’s no time a hitter is more likely to see a fastball than on the first pitch of an at-bat, so it’s not surprising to hear Thomas has had an extraordinary amount of success when he puts the first pitch in play: He’s only batting a mere .619 with a 1.541 OPS in those situations.
“I feel like some of these (opposing pitchers) get into a rhythm with their stuff,” he said. “In the past, I’ve been pretty ‘guessy.’ I’ll sit on certain stuff. And (Martinez) has always been saying: ‘Stay on the heater! Stay on the heater! You’re good enough to adjust and hit the other stuff.’ I feel like that’s helped me out, being more aggressive early on in counts.”