Davey Martinez had been saying for days Victor Robles would return to the Nationals lineup once his hamstring was healed enough to ease any concern about more serious injury. Tonight, the Nats manager and medical staff decided it was safe for the rookie center fielder to take the field again.
Robles, who hasn’t played since straining his right hamstring during Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 4, will start tonight in center field and bat eighth for Game 3 of the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals.
The key development in Robles’ recovery came Sunday after the team got back to town and had Robles work out at Nationals Park.
“He ran the bases and ran them full tilt,” Martinez said. “He looked really good. We wanted him to hit on the field. He couldn’t do that, obviously, because it started pouring down rain. But he hit in the cage, took some good swings. He’s raring to go. Excited to be back on the field.”
Though Robles is a rookie starting in the postseason for the first time, and though Michael A. Taylor has performed well in his absence, Martinez has been committed to Robles taking his job back once healthy, given his all-around skills and Taylor’s value coming off the bench.
The Nationals also believe Robles runs less risk of injury if he has time to warm up and start the game instead of trying to enter the game at some point along the way.
“Michael’s played really, really well,” Martinez said. “But with Victor, it’s getting him loose and in the game and letting him play, as opposed to keeping him on the bench, trying to get him loose again. I talked to the training staff about that and felt that he should just get loose and get in the game. If something happens, Michael is ready to play.”
Taylor also gives Martinez his best pinch-running option, something that was lacking in recent games. When Matt Adams singled with one out in the eighth inning Saturday in St. Louis, the situation seemed to call for a faster runner. But with Robles still not available, Martinez didn’t want to burn up his already thin bench.
This next run of home games does present the Nationals with a new challenge. Up to this point, they’ve never had to play more than two days in a row. Now they face the potential of three straight games, which could require some more careful lineup and bullpen usage.
Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman have been playing a lot, a stark contrast from their workload during the regular season. And Martinez has to date avoided using Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson on three straight days, which could throw a wrinkle into his bullpen plans.
“We’ll just have to see how the game plays out today, tomorrow,” the manager said. “These guys, they come in every day, they throw, and after that, I have a conversation with them to see where they’re at. They know what we’re playing for, so these games are different than the regular season. If they’re available and we have a chance to close out a game, I’m sure they’re going to want the ball.”