After a sluggish start to last season, Lane Thomas is full-steam ahead in the first handful of games to begin 2023.
Sorry for the Lane Train pun, but I can’t help myself.
Thomas is already pacing the Nationals offense by going 5-for-16 (.313) with a run, a double, an RBI and .917 OPS through the first four games. In a much bigger sample size, he hit only .195 with a .581 OPS and nine extra-base hits through the end of May 2022.
It’s just four games, but Thomas is second on the team in batting average and is one of only three players so far to hit for extra bases.
Thomas has been touted as a fastball hitter since his arrival in the 2021 trade with the Cardinals that sent veteran left-hander Jon Lester to St. Louis. He only hit .247 with a .220 expected batting average against the heater last year. So far this year against fastballs, he’s already 4-for-6 with an expected average of .375 and an expected .587 slugging percentage.
“It's getting on the fastball,” manager Davey Martinez said of Thomas’ early success. “Getting the ball in the strike zone and being ready to hit it. Lane can hit, but he's got to be aggressive. He's got to get the ball in the zone. And he's done that so far.”
What hasn’t changed from last year is Thomas’ movement up and down the lineup. In 2022, he took at least one at-bat in every spot in the order, with the No. 3 spot being the only position he didn’t start a game in while leading off the most.
So far this year, the right-handed bat has led off twice (against lefty starters) and hit sixth and seventh (against righty starters). Martinez likes moving him around depending on the starting pitching matchup.
“Against left-handed (pitchers), I like him up at the top,” the skipper said. “But against righties, look, he's gonna move the baseball, too, so I kind of like him more in the middle. See if we can't drive in some runs down there, or he can kind of keep the line going a little bit.”
Martinez also likes to see aggressiveness from Thomas in right field, previously saying his strong arm plays well out there. Since making the late-season move after the Juan Soto trade last year, Thomas has flashed the potential to stick in right for the long-term.
“He's playing awesome,” Martinez said. “I think it's not just playing right field. I think he's playing a little bit more aggressively out there. He's not afraid to make a mistake. And that's something we talked to him over the last couple of years that, hey, catch the ball. Do not let the ball hit the grass. If you can catch it, go catch it. And he's been a lot better at that.”
Thomas already has 1 Defensive Runs Saved by tracking down a flyball against the Braves on Saturday. But as he caught the ball, he thought he was closer than he actually was to the wall to the left of the Nationals bullpen in right field. He braced himself to make contact with the green padding, but when it never came, he stumbled and fell to the ground.
Most importantly, he still held onto the ball, much to his manager’s delight.
“He almost killed himself the other day, but he was good. He caught it,” Martinez said with a laugh. “That's what he said to me. He said, 'I caught it!' I go, 'It wasn't pretty, but yeah, you did. Good job.'"