Last week outfielder Victor Robles was caught off second base in a game at Los Angeles. After the game, manager Davey Martinez said Robles assumed he could stroll over to third base when Juan Soto drew a walk because he thought there was a runner at first base. There was also some confusion as to whether or not a time out was called on field. Apparently, Robles thought there was, and so assumed he could go and speak to third base coach Bobby Henley.
The Dodgers saw him venture off second base and threw to the base and tagged Robles out. Instead of the bases loaded with no one out, the Nats were faced with runners on the corners and one out. The Dodgers were able to then get out of the jam unscathed.
This week I asked Martinez questions about communication with umpires and what players can do to make sure whether there is a timeout on the field after a play.
He geared his answer toward young players speaking with umpires during at-bats at home plate. He said his hitters can find out how the game will be called and what the home plate umpire’s strike zone will be like for the day.
“We talk a lot about (that) ... especially when they are hitting,” Martinez said. “That’s the biggest thing. Actually, believe it or not, I had Soto last year talk to umpire Gary (Cederstrom) just about their approach and what to look for as a hitter, young hitter. Great conversation. After we left, Juan said he learned a lot. When you go in the box as a hitter, you forget about everything else. You are just competing. You are trying to get a hit, you’re trying to hit the ball hard. Sometimes as you compete, you forget what goes on.”
Martinez said he has a very good relationship with Cederstrom and even had Soto speak to the veteran umpire in his office before a game last season. They went over what umpires see and how they call games. Martinez said such conversations give his young players insight into how an umpire sees a game, and also helps the umpire establish a relationship with his players.
Martinez told me he plans to bring Robles over to talk with the umpires in their office prior to an upcoming series at Nats Park. This will occur sometime this season when Cederstrom’s crew is in town.
“As a hitter, you think you know the strike zone really well,” Martinez said. “The umpire knows the strike zone pretty well, too. Not everybody is going to be perfect. We try to tell the guys, ‘You know what? Every now and then they are going to call a ball a strike, but they might call a strike a ball, too. It works both ways. You got to be able to forget that pitch, move on to the next pitch and be ready.’ “
Martinez said young players like Soto and Robles cannot let the strike zone an umpire establishes early affect the rest of the game or their mindset from at-bat to at-bat.
“Juan actually (Monday) had a real good conversation (with the ump), and Juan is not disrespectful,” Martinez said. “None of our guys are. Really, they’re not. I tell them ‘You got to forget about that pitch and get to the next pitch. And if it’s at the end of the at-bat and when you think it was a ball, you might have two or three more at-bats in a key moment. Get ready for your next at-bat, forget about that one and let’s get to the next one.’ “
As far as runner communication on field, Martinez said the baserunner must check in and rely on base coaches Tim Bogar and Bobby Henley to direct them through a play so that they are not caught off a base inadvertently or assume incorrectly that time has been called.
“Yeah, when they’re on first base, Bogey is in their ear the entire time telling them the situation, what to look for, got to be ready for this, that,” Martinez said. “And when they’re at third base too, Bobby will be screaming at them when they’re on second and letting them know what’s going on.”
But the bottom line is that every player must value their time on base and not be caught off guard. Players must put all their focus on finding a way to get home before being tagged out. Wasted chances on base can add up through the course of a game when facing quality pitching and defense. Those chances do not come around often.