For weeks, Davey Martinez insisted he preferred to keep Victor Robles at the bottom of his daily lineup, believing the rookie outfielder was benefitting from the lower-pressure position in his batting order.
Circumstances - injuries, plus Robles’ success - left Martinez with no choice but to move the 21-year-old up in the lineup. But three weeks later, it’s becoming clearer why Martinez felt the way he did all along.
Though he homered Tuesday night during the Nationals’ 5-2 loss to the Mets, Robles is mired in a larger slump at the plate. In the 18 games he has batted second this season, he’s batting .188 with a .250 on-base percentage and .540 OPS.
Contrast that with Robles’ numbers in 18 games batting ninth: a .279 average with a .333 on-base percentage and .874 OPS.
“The biggest thing for him is to be consistent,” Martinez said. “For him, a young hitter, especially when he’s hitting up at the top of the order: Take your walks. I know he’s bunted quite a few times for a base hit, and that’s awesome, because he pretty much does that on his own. He gets it. He’s 21 years old. But he’s handled himself really well. And he’s learning every single day.”
Robles has drawn only three walks in 77 plate appearances while batting second. It’s a tricky balancing act for a young hitter, whether to work the count or whether to go after the first good pitch he gets.
“I think he’s just overly aggressive,” Martinez said. “He wants to swing the bat. He understands he’s up there to hit. We tell him: ‘We don’t want you looking for walks. There’s times where, if they’re going to give you walks, take your walks.’ But he’s aggressive.”
Robles has tried to maintain the same approach, no matter where he’s batting on a given night. He said that when he moved up in the order, and he has stuck with the mindset.
“I keep the same focus as I’ve always said,” he said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “My job is to help the team any way I can, and that’s all I’m trying to do. Wherever I am in the lineup, that’s all I’m trying to do, and then I maintain the same focus as I always have.”
Circumstances left Martinez with little choice but to move Robles up. But circumstances may soon allow him to move the kid back down.
Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon have each returned from the injured list in the last week. Now Trea Turner appears to be a few days away from returning from his broken index finger, which will stabilize the top of the lineup and free up Robles to return to a lower-pressure position.
“We’ll see when Trea comes back, but (Robles) was doing really well in the 9-hole,” Martinez said. “It seemed like he was a little bit more patient. It changes our dynamic. If you have him 9, and all of a sudden you have (Adam) Eaton-Trea 1-2 ... that’s three potential leadoff hitters coming up back-to-back-to-back.”