The subject of Victor Robles and getting hit by pitches is not a new one.
Robles has never been afraid to stand close to the plate. Since his arrival with the Nationals in 2014 for the Dominican Summer League Nats, Robles has always set up close to the plate in the batter’s box, not allowing the pitcher to get an advantage with pitches down and away. Robles was forced to miss a few games back in his 2016 minor league season after getting hit by a pitch.
Nationals manager Davey Martinez is not worried about Robles’ tendency to crowd the plate, but more about the way the outfielder avoids pitches close to him. The center fielder returns to the lineup tonight after sitting out Saturday’s game due to left wrist soreness.
“My biggest concern with him is the way he tries to get out of the way,” Martinez said. “He doesn’t turn in, per se, with his shoulder. He just kind of jumps out of the way. I’d rather see him protect himself.
“If he’s going to get hit, you want to get hit this part,” he said, pointing to his back below the shoulder.
“Look, he likes to stand up on the plate and you don’t want him to change that. He’s open a little bit, so as he starts his swing he leans toward the plate a little bit. I would like him to learn that if the ball is in, just kind of turn (into the pitch) instead of (leaning back). Because if you (lean back) when the ball is running, you’re going to get hit. My biggest fear is that he gets hit somewhere where he’s really going to get hurt.”
Martinez remembers from his own playing days that hitters learn from experience to get better at avoiding pitches. And that there are places on your body that can absorb a pitch without enduring major injury.
“It’s something you really have to learn how to get out of the way of pitches so you limit the damage when you do get hit,” Martinez said. “You have to protect yourself. You don’t want to ever think that you are going to get hit ‘cause then all of a sudden you start fearing the baseball. And he doesn’t fear the baseball at all, as we know, but there’s a proper way to get out of the way.
“The balls up that I know are in, I actually cringe because I know how he is. And then he jumps out of the way, he falls backwards and helmet flies off. I get nervous because of how he approaches at-bats and how he doesn’t necessarily know how to get out of the way.”
Martinez has had meetings with Robles on how to avoid pitches. He told Robles that, if he can’t avoid a pitched ball, he should try to lean in so the it hits him in a soft spot on his upper back or shoulder.
“I’ve talked to him (to tell him the) best thing you can do is if the ball is coming in, don’t jump, just stay there,” Martinez said. “If it is that close, you’re going to get hit a lot of (times). The other day I watched the game and he got hit and the ball was almost a strike. So that tells you how much he really goes in to home plate.”
Martinez said he has noticed that, unlike his time in the majors (1986-2001), today’s hitters seem unafraid to stand very close to the plate when the pitch arrives.
“I really believe the way hitting is now, everybody is up on the plate,” Martinez said. “They’re getting closer to home plate. I know pitchers around the league are trying to establish inside again. Over the years, everything was pitch away, pitch away. Now they are trying to establish in, and because a hitter is standing close, they’re getting hit more.”
And what makes crowding the plate so dangerous in 2019 is pitchers who average 95-100 mph with their fastballs. The velocity pitchers throw with in the modern era makes it even that much more difficult to get out of the way.
“It’s scary,” Martinez said. “You are up there and guys are throwing, the average now is 96-point-something mph, especially from the bullpen. You don’t ever want to think about it as a hitter when you are up there hitting. But you got to be conscious of it and be ready.”
Robles doesn’t wear a big elbow protector or anything major around his wrists. Martinez said Anthony Rendon, who recently did a stretch on the injured list after being drilled in the elbow, has opted for some protection, but nothing that is outwardly obvious.
“You really have to be comfortable with it on, too,” Martinez said. “A lot of guys don’t like wearing them. Anthony doesn’t like wearing a shield. So, he has a little pad underneath his sleeve that he wears. There’s a lot of guys that, surprisingly, don’t wear them because they don’t like the way it feels on them.”
Update: Nationals starter Jeremy Hellickson was unable to throw strikes in the first inning. He walked the first three batters he faced. Javier Báez’s RBI fielder’s choice to third base scored Kyle Schwarber. Willson Contreras leaned in on a pitch and was hit to load the bases again, but then Hellickson induced a 5-6-3 double play to end the inning.
The Cubs kept getting to Hellickson.
In the second, Jason Heyward singled and Albert Almora Jr. doubled. With two men in scoring position and one out, Schwarber launched a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Heyward.
In the third, Anthony Rizzo hit a no-doubt solo home run on a 2-2 pitch to left-center field.
Meanwhile, the Nats did not record a hit and struck out three times in the first three innings versus Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
Hellickson lasted only three innings, allowing three runs on four hits with three walks, one strikeout and one hit batter. He threw 64 pitches, only 30 for strikes.
After three innings, the Cubs lead the Nats 3-0.
Update II: The Cubs added a run versus Kyle McGowin in the fourth. Almora doubled for the second time in the game. A passed ball by Kurt Suzuki moved him to third base. Schwarber’s second RBI sacrifice fly, this one to right field, upped the Chicago lead to 4-0.
Update III: In the fifth, Suzuki singled for the Nats’ first hit of the game. Gerardo Parra appeared to have a double to right field, but was tagged out at second base on a nice throw from Heyward to Javier Báez. The call on the field stood after video review. The delay took one minute and 47 seconds. Brian Dozier’s grounder to deep second base scored Suzuki.
After five innings, the Cubs lead the Nats 4-1.
Update IV: In the sixth, the Cubs added a run on a Hendricks bunt that McGowin was unable to scoop to Suzuki, allowing Heyward to score from third base. Bryant added a bloop single that tipped off of Dozier’s glove and brought Almora home.
Mid-sixth, the Cubs lead the Nats 6-1.
Update V: Rendon launched a three-run shot in the sixth. Juan Soto doubled and later Parra singled. Almora airmailed the throw home, but Soto was held at third. Hendricks was replaced by Brandon Kintzler. Dozier flew out to left field to end the threat.
After six innings, the Cubs lead the Nats 6-4.
Update VI: Howie Kendrick drilled a solo homer off of Kintzler in the seventh.
The Cubs lead the Nats 6-5.
Update VII: The Nats went down 1-2-3 in the ninth to Steve Cishek.
Final score: the Cubs 6, the Nats 5.