Could surprisingly productive Escobar figure into ‘22 plans?

Alcides Escobar enters the day with a .277 batting average, .335 on-base percentage and .699 OPS. That may not knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s still the most productive the veteran infielder has been at the plate in a long time.

Escobar, who didn’t play in the big leagues in 2019 or 2020 and only joined the Nationals in July after the club suffered a sudden rash of injuries to its infielders, hasn’t owned a batting average this high since 2014, when he was a mainstay in a Royals lineup that went all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. He’s never sported an on-base percentage this high in a career that began in 2008 with the Brewers.

What gives? How did a 34-year-old never known for his bat suddenly become a better hitter three years after last playing in the majors? Manager Davey Martinez attributes Escobar’s success to two factors, one a slight mechanical switch, the other a mental approach.

The mechanical switch: Escobar has stopped tilting his head when he bats, providing better vision of each pitch.

“When you see a guy like that, it’s hard to see the ball with two eyes,” Martinez said Friday during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “So I talk a lot to him about getting his head up, so he can stay on top of the baseball a little better. And he seemed to like that. It gives him a little more time.”

The mental approach: After a year playing for the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate, then a year playing in Japan, then half a season playing for the Royals’ Triple-A club, Escobar is reinvigorated playing in the majors again, even if it’s for a rebuilding Nationals team.

Escobar-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpg“Honestly, he’s having fun,” Martinez said. “He’s enjoying the game. He’s getting an opportunity to play in the big leagues again, which is great for him. He’s such an unbelievable person to be around. The guy’s always cheerful. He’s always excited to play.”

It may not seem like much, and Escobar has hardly made up for the production the Nationals lost when they traded away Trea Turner and Josh Harrison, but his presence has made a difference for a club that needs all the veteran influence it can get to help guide young infielders like Luis García and Carter Kieboom as they learn how to play at this level.

“It’s been awesome,” Martinez said. “I watch their conversations in between innings, how he tries to talk to them about it and gives them his professional opinion on what should’ve transpired if something went wrong, or what needs to happen next time. He’s been really good. He talks to Luis about handling the ball around second base, turning double plays, about throws from the catcher, how to position himself. He’s been really awesome with these guys.”

Which only leaves you wondering if there might still be a place for Escobar on the Nationals’ 2022 roster.

It’s still awfully early in the process, and the Nationals haven’t begun to sort through their offseason plan quite yet, but Escobar’s ability to play multiple positions at an affordable cost could make him valuable for another season.

“Absolutely. I think this guy could be very important, especially when he can play third, shortstop, second base and even play the outfield,” Martinez said. “Offensively, he’s doing well. And if he can continue to do that the rest of the year, play the way he’s playing, I can’t see why (we wouldn’t want him back). It’ll be a conversation we definitely have at the end of the season about possibly bringing him back here. His attitude’s been tremendous. He’ll do anything. He’ll hit anywhere. Do anything you ask him to do.”

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