With opposite-field blast, García continues hot start to season

LOS ANGELES – Base hits to the opposite field are nothing out of the ordinary for Luis García Jr. Given his bat control, a little flick of the wrists is often all he needs to poke an outside pitch to left field for a simple single.

What García did Monday night at Dodger Stadium, on the other hand, was a welcome development. The Nationals second baseman hit his first home run of 2024, and he did so with a three-run shot to left-center.

García's blast, on a 3-2 slider from Los Angeles’ Tyler Glasnow, capped what arguably was one of the best at-bats of his major league career. Facing the flamethrowing right-hander, with two on and two out in the top of the fifth, García fell behind in the count, then took three straight pitches down and in to work his way back into a favorable count. He fouled off a 3-1 fastball at the knees. Then he got the full-count slider up and out over the plate and mashed it 103.9 mph toward left-center, where it cleared the fence for a key home runs in the Nats’ 6-4 victory.

“It felt great,” García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “In that moment, I was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere, drive in those two runs and try to help the team increase the lead in that moment. He left the pitch there, and I was able to drive it. I was very excited to be able to do that in that moment.”

Power displays have become a rare thing for García, whose priority at times seems to be making contact more so than making loud contact. But he does have the ability to hit the ball hard in the air; he just has to take the right swing on the right pitch to make it happen.

“Look, when Luis stays on the baseball, he can hit,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s got to keep his head down. He’s got to think about hitting the ball up the middle of the field. That was a great swing. Like I’ve always said, the three-run homers are sexy. And I’m glad we got one tonight.”

The homer was García's lone hit Monday night, but it wasn’t the only time he squared a ball up. He lined out to short in his first at-bat against Glasnow. Then he scorched a ball 358 feet to center field his next time up. By the time he stepped to the plate for his third at-bat of the game, the pattern was well established. And this time he was rewarded for his excellent contact.

“When I go up for the at-bats, I don’t try to think too much,” he said. “I feel like when I do, I get in problems. But when I don’t, I feel a little more relaxed and I’m able to just concentrate on the ball and try to hit it as hard as possible. I don’t try to hit too much, and that’s helped me a lot.”

There may not have been a player with as much pressure on him entering this season as García, whose spring training struggles drew several moments of public ire from his manager. The Nationals strongly considered putting rookie Trey Lipscomb on the Opening Day roster and having him start games at second base in place of García.

Lipscomb did make it up two days later, not to play second base but to play third after Nick Senzel fractured his right thumb fielding a grounder during batting practice. Senzel came off the 10-day injured list Monday, but when it came time to decide which player would lose his roster spot as a result, García was safe. In the end, it was Lipscomb who was demoted to Triple-A, in large part because of García's strong start to the season.

Through 14 games, he’s batting .318, with seven doubles, the home run and eight RBIs (third-most on the team behind CJ Abrams and Lane Thomas). He has also played well in the field and run the bases well, showing progress in a couple of areas that concerned club officials.

There’s a long way yet to go, but for García, this strong start may have taken him off the hot seat for a while.

“Just the way I’ve been able to stay focused,” he said when asked what stands out about his performance to date. “I’ve been working every day hard on my defense, on my offense. And I think I’ve improved a lot on both sides of the field. I just try to maintain and stay consistent with my focus out there.”

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