Lane Thomas didn’t take the field at Nationals Park on Opening Day determined to finish the season with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He didn’t even realize it was within his grasp until recent weeks, as his stolen base number began to catch up to his homer total.
“It’s one of those things where you look up, and you’re close to it,” he said. “It’s not like you’re trying to do it. You just try to get a little bit better at the whole aspect of your game, and it happens.”
Thomas said this late Sunday night, after he had stolen his 20th base of the season and also homered for the 27th time just for good measure in the finale of the Nationals’ day-night doubleheader against the Braves.
Thus did the 28-year-old outfielder become only the fourth player in Nats history to join the 20-20 Club, the first since Bryce Harper did it in 2016. Alfonso Soriano, of course, doubled the necessary output in each category during his historic 40-40 season in 2006. And Ian Desmond reached 20-20 in three consecutive seasons from 2012-14, the only player the team has ever had to do it multiple times.
“He’s just been very consistent, that guy that’s gone out there and played hard for us all year long,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I’m proud of him. He’s made some huge strides. I think he’s going to get better, as well.”
Thomas didn’t come all that close to 20-20 last season, hitting 17 homers but stealing only eight bases in 12 tries. This year, he’s swiped 20 bags while still being caught only four times, showing significant improvement in that department.
“The people that help you get there,” Thomas said, crediting several members of the Nationals coaching staff. “A lot of the coaches spent a lot of time with me in spring and throughout this year. (Eric Young Jr.) and Tim Bogar and (Gary) DiSarcina, they build you up so much and talk some confidence into you, that it pays off. It’s been cool to work with all of them.”
Major League Baseball’s rules changes this year, specifically the limitation on pickoff attempts and the enlarging of bases, certainly helped Thomas and others become more productive on the base paths. Thomas is the 17th big leaguer in the 20-20 Club this season, two shy of the all-time record established in 1999.
And with seven other players currently sitting on at least 18 homers and 18 steals, there is still time for the club to grow before season’s end.
Within that group is CJ Abrams, who has long since reached the stolen base mark – he now has 43 of those – and needs two homers in the season’s final five games to stand alongside Thomas. If he does it, they’ll become the first Nationals duo to have 20-20 seasons together. Only 46 major league clubs have ever had teammates in the 20-20 Club.
* The Nationals announced their rotation plans late Monday for this week’s interleague series against the Orioles.
Josiah Gray, as expected, will start tonight’s series opener at Camden Yards. It will be the 30th and final start of the year for Gray, who will be working on five days’ rest.
Patrick Corbin was named as Wednesday’s starter, a bit of a surprise. After getting roughed up by the Braves on Friday, the left-hander suggested he would be facing them again in his season finale, later this weekend at Truist Park. The Nats, though, decided to have him pitch against Baltimore instead, on four days’ rest.
That means Trevor Williams will have at least 12 days off between starts, and that assumes the struggling right-hander gets another start at all this weekend. Williams last pitched Sept. 16 in Milwaukee, lasting only two innings while throwing 70 pitches.
Jackson Rutledge and Joan Adon, who started Sunday’s doubleheader, are likely to pitch in Atlanta this weekend. If Williams doesn’t get the other start, the Nationals would either need to give that assignment to Rule 5 draftee Thaddeus Ward (who has only pitched out of the bullpen in the majors this year) or else call someone else up from the minors (as they did with Adon for his big league debut on the final day of the 2021 season).