The 26-year-old outfielder has twice been thrown out on the bases not because of anything the opposing defense did, but because of his own lack of awareness of the rules.
It happened Tuesday night during the ninth inning of the Nats’ 4-2 win over the Braves. Leading off from first base with nobody out, Thomas ran on the pitch. He looked back and both saw and heard Alcides Escobar foul tip the pitch into catcher Travis d’Arnaud’s mitt and immediately stopped a few feet short of second base, just as Ozzie Albies caught d’Arnaud’s throw and tagged an unsuspecting Thomas out.
Thomas looked at second base umpire Ted Barrett in disbelief, not understanding why he was called out. The reason: A foul tip, unlike a foul ball that touches the ground or goes out of play, remains a live ball.
“We talked to him; he didn’t realize,” manager Davey Martinez said today during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “Even though he heard the foul tip, he slowed down. He thought it was a foul ball.”
In a situation like that, Martinez has simple advice for any player.
“Don’t be an umpire,” the manager said. “Finish the play. Slide. The umpire will tell you if it’s a foul ball. Or if he calls you safe, you stay on the base. But finish the play out.”
This blunder came five days after Thomas also was called out on the bases because he didn’t know a particular rule. In the first inning of Friday’s game against the Mets, he again was on first base when Escobar drove a ball to right-center that was caught. By that point, Thomas had already rounded second, so he had to retreat to get back to first base. But he didn’t know he needed to retouch the bag on his way back, and the Mets successfully stepped on the base for an out.
Was Martinez surprised that a big league player was unaware of either rule?
“It’s kind of weird, honestly,” the manager said. “Because he’s played a lot. And he’s come from a really good organization (the Cardinals) that really hones in on fundamentals and knowing the game. And when you talk to him, you realize he didn’t know he had to retouch the base. He thought once you touch it, you’re good. I was kind of shocked by it.”
Those two mistakes hardly offset all the positives Thomas has brought to the table since his trade deadline acquisition for Jon Lester. He enters tonight’s game batting .300 (24-for-80) with 14 runs, five doubles, three homers, 11 RBIs, a .380 on-base percentage and an .880 OPS in 22 games, and has taken over as the team’s starting center fielder and leadoff man.
The Nationals, though, have to hope he has now learned a couple of important rules and doesn’t make the same mistakes again.
“He gets it,” Martinez said. “As long as it happened, it happened once. If it reoccurs, then we have an issue.”