It happened in a flash.
With Reds pinch-hitter José Peraza standing at first base, thanks to a walk, center fielder Victor Robles came on for a ball in shallow right field to pick up a single off the bat of Reds outfielder Jesse Winker.
Peraza saw how far Robles had to go toward the right field area and took his cue to round second base and charge for third.
Robles gathered the ball, and with his momentum still pushing him toward the right field line, turned and fired a strike to third baseman Anthony Rendon. Rendon gathered the laser throw and dove forward to tag Peraza for the second out of the inning.
The outfield assist created a buzz in the stadium and around the league that Robles has an arm that can change the game.
“It got my attention,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said of the throw, which happened Aug. 13. “Even though I’ve seen him do it. How he went around and pretty much made a perfect throw (to) Anthony to finish the play? I just sat there and I was amazed because he went opposite to where he needed to throw the ball and made an unbelievable throw. That’s talent.”
The Reds challenged Robles and came up short. Cincinnati only plays the Nats twice a year. Were they just playing the odds on a play like that so far from third base, or were they unaware that the 22-year-old had an arm that could get them?
“It’s funny because there are teams that play that way, anyway,” Martinez said. “It’s in their (DNA). Hey, they’re going to try. It’s part of their game. When you come in and now that a guy comes (and) gets the ball the way Robles comes, and he has almost an 80 arm, you have to have that meeting: ‘Hey, look if this guy is charging the ball, be heads up. We are probably going to hold you up. Be smart if you’re going first to third.’
“You do have those conversations with your team, but there are some teams that are going to push the envelope. They believe that’s part of their game. We know that when we scout other teams they’re going to be very aggressive. We have conversations with our outfield: ‘Hey, you got to come get the ball because they will run in your face if you don’t.’”
The learning process for Robles has been quick. He has gotten better and better on defense in a matter of 75-100 games this season. Martinez said it’s not just from his natural talent. Robles works at his craft prior to each game, anticipating what balls he will see from hitters in the center field area.
Vic Cannon 💪🎯 pic.twitter.com/4vPlGitD2o— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) August 17, 2019
Despite early “young, aggressive mistakes”, Robles has continued to focus on getting better.
“Now, a testament to him, he goes out every day and takes 25-35 balls. Every day is different,” Martinez noted. “But now you look at him and you got to consider him a Gold Glove outfielder, really. The way he goes and gets the ball, the way he holds runners, he throws guys out, all that stuff. He really has impressed me. Not only me, but even other coaches from other teams. They come in and say, ‘Man, your center fielder is unbelievable.’ When you start talking about it like that, I say, yeah, he’s going to win a Gold Glove. Maybe two, three, four, five, six. He’s really good. He practices every day.”
I wrote about how third base coach and outfield coordinator Bobby Henley helped left fielder Juan Soto and Robles come up with defensive game plans and outfield positioning cards. This was a base from where they started their defensive strategy. Now with that knowledge, Robles has been able to freelance a bit, and has been able to let his athletic ability allow him to be even more aggressive on defense.
“It happened early, like in June,” Martinez said. “Sometimes he’ll move and Bob and I will sit there and he’ll say, ‘Hey!’ And I’ll say, ‘He’s got to learn how to play. It doesn’t always go by a card. Just let him figure it out. He sees something and typically, when he does do that he is on point.”
Now Martinez and Henley watch and see Robles directing Soto and right fielder Adam Eaton. The trio work as a team, adjusting for each batter. But with Robles’ ability to move quickly and throw to anywhere in the infield, he can cover a lot of ground.
“Now that he’s been in the league, he has seen guys,” Martinez said. “He understands. We do our due diligence before every game on where to play guys, but if he sees something, he sees a swing, you can actually see him start moving and adjusting on his own, which is really, really nice.
“When you start doing that, you really understand that he is really getting that feeling that this is his center field. The two guys in the corners, those are his guys. You’ll watch him move and he’ll move Soto and he’ll move Eaton. It’s really nice. It makes Bob and my job really easy when he starts doing that.”
Martinez was asked if Robles reminded him of a 22-year-old outfielder he remembered from his playing days?
“Yeah, me,” Martinez chuckled.
Martinez knows exactly what he has in the up-and-coming Robles. Now the rest of the league is taking notice too.