The Nationals optioned the slumping Robles to Triple-A Rochester prior to tonight’s game against the Phillies, a transaction that had shock value in the moment but in truth was weeks in the making.
Andrew Stevenson was recalled from Rochester to take Robles’ roster spot. The Nats also placed de facto closer Kyle Finnegan on the paternity leave list and recalled fellow reliever Wander Suero from Rochester in a flurry of moves less than two hours before first pitch.
But the Robles news resonated the most, because of the immediate implications but especially because of the long-term ramifications.
Long touted as the Nationals’ long-term center fielder and a potential star with all-around skills that could perhaps make him a more complete ballplayer than Soto, Robles has instead failed to prove he can hit at an adequate level for two seasons now. He currently owns a .203 batting average, .310 on-base percentage and .605 OPS in 107 games that ranks fifth-worst among all major leaguers with at least 350 plate appearances.
This on the heels of a disappointing, if abbreviated, 2020 season in which he hit .220 with a .293 on-base percentage and .608 OPS in 52 games.
Things seemed to come to a head over the last two weeks as Lane Thomas, acquired from the Cardinals for Jon Lester, started producing at the plate and started playing in center field and leading off ahead of Robles. Though Davey Martinez continued to tout Robles as “still a big part of our future,” the manager also acknowledged he wanted to see more of Thomas, who is batting .310 (13-for-42) with five extra-base hits, a .408 on-base percentage and .861 OPS.
Because the moves were announced more than an hour after Martinez held his pregame Zoom session with reporters and general manager Mike Rizzo wasn’t on the field during batting practice, the Nationals won’t speak about them until after tonight’s game.
Stevenson returns after a brief demotion to Rochester but figures to mostly come off the bench, with Thomas in center field and Yadiel Hernandez in left field. (Though Josh Bell is making his second start of the season in the outfield tonight, playing left field while Ryan Zimmerman starts at first base.)
Finnegan, meanwhile, can be off the active roster for three days while on paternity leave. The right-hander has ascended into the closer’s role following the trades of Brad Hand (who was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays today) and Daniel Hudson.
Suero returns after an erratic stint in Rochester in which he has allowed nine runs and 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.