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Martinez Showing More Flexibility In Roster; Is It Working?

Aside from moving a few players up and down his lineup, manager Dave Martinez had kept his roster and everyday players rather consistent throughout this season.

But that’s changed recently.

In fairness, his hand has been partially forced due to Victor Robles’ injury. But he’s also shown more flexibility with his catchers over the last handful of games, so let's take a look at where the roster stands after today's sweep by Milwaukee. 

The Defense

Aside from an occasional day off for rest, Robles has been Martinez’s everyday centerfielder for the last three seasons, and he’s never wavered from that belief. Aside from aging veterans like Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman, that’s been Davey’s mentality with all of his starters throughout his tenure in Washington.

With Robles on the IL due to a sprained ankle, however, Davey has been forced to adjust. He only has one other player on his roster with any legitimate capability of playing centerfield, no outfielders (aside from Robles) who hit right-handed, and no true outfield depth in the minor leagues.

On Saturday, May 22, Davey decided to trot out Josh Harrison in center for the first time in his career. Aside from that, Andrew Stevenson has drawn every inning of work in Robles’ place, except for this Saturday – when Harrison started there for six innings before moving to second base.

To replace Robles on the roster, the Nationals promoted infielder Luis Garcia. On the surface, that decision was interesting on multiple levels. First, it signaled that he’s considered to be ahead of Carter Kieboom. The extra infield depth – which isn’t typically what Davey favors – also presents the Nationals with some newfound lineup and defensive versatility.

The initial thought was that Garcia would play somewhat regularly at second base, allowing Harrison to play centerfield at times. Up until now, that has seldom happened. In fact, they’ve yet to play in the field at the same time in a game – Jordy Mercer has been the second baseman the two times Harrison has been in centerfield.  Garcia has drawn some starts, though, and Harrison has played a bench role in those games.

In three official “chances” on balls in play in center, Harrison has converted twice and committed one error. That’s certainly a small sample size, but botching one-third of your opportunities on defense isn’t good, nor is a defensive runs saved (DRS) of negative-one in only 10 innings. His lack of speed and range forces Kyle Schwarber and Juan Soto to shade further towards center than normal, leaving the foul lines wide open for extra-base hits.

It was a smart idea to try, but it won’t work going forward. It also highlights the point that, unless the organization views Gerardo Parra as a viable option (which is currently appears they don’t), they need to add another versatile outfielder, and ideally one who can hit right-handed.

Then again, Robles is currently on a rehab assignment in AA Harrisburg, so maybe the Nats won’t see the need to make a move.

The Lineup

Davey has also seemingly settled on some lineup changes. Trea Turner remains solidified in the leadoff spot, but Harrison has slid back down to sixth most days. Rather than bumping up someone like Starlin Castro, the sluggers have all moved up one spot.

Batting

Beginning of Season

Before Recent Changes

After Recent Changes

1

Victor Robles

Trea Turner

Trea Turner

2

Trea Turner

Josh Harrison

Juan Soto

3

Juan Soto

Juan Soto

Josh Bell

4

Josh Bell

Kyle Schwarber

Kyle Schwarber

5

Kyle Schwarber

Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro

6

Starlin Castro

Josh Bell

Josh Harrison

7

Josh Harrison

Catcher

Catcher

8

Catcher

Pitcher

Andrew Stevenson

9

Pitcher

Victor Robles

Pitcher

 

Bell has been substantially more productive lately, but seemingly everyone else has taken a dip at the plate. That’s shown up on the scoreboard too, as the Nationals have scored more than two runs in only one of their last six games.

Pitchers and Catchers

Davey’s also broken away from his tendencies behind the plate. He usually commits to specific pitcher-catcher pairings, and he doesn’t deviate from them unless one’s production in the batter’s box makes it essential to play them more frequently.

Date

Starting Pitcher

Catcher

Normal?

Better, Worse,
or Avg Start

Sunday, May 16

Erick Fedde

Alex Avila

No

Better

Monday, May 17

Jon Lester

Yan Gomes

No

Worse

Tuesday, May 18

Patrick Corbin

Yan Gomes

Yes

N/A

Wednesday, May 19

Max Scherzer

Yan Gomes

No

Average

Thursday, May 20

Joe Ross

Alex Avila

No

Worse

Friday, May 21

Stephen Strasburg

Yan Gomes

Yes

N/A

Saturday, May 22

Jon Lester

Yan Gomes

No

Worse

Sunday, May 23

Patrick Corbin

Alex Avila

No

Worse

Monday

OFF DAY

Tuesday

Max Scherzer

Yan Gomes

No

Average

Wednesday (susp, finished Thursday)

Joe Ross

Alex Avila

No

Better

Thursday (scheduled)

Stephen Strasburg

Yan Gomes

Yes

N/A

Friday

OFF DAY

Saturday (Game 1)

Patrick Corbin

Alex Avila

No

Worse

Saturday (Game 2)

Jon Lester

Yan Gomes

No

Average

Sunday

Max Scherzer

Yan Gomes

No

Average

 

Experimentation is never a terrible thing, but it hasn’t all worked. If nothing else, Davey’s learned from the mixing and matching that he’s done. He may not go back to Lester and Gomes or Corbin and Ross with Avila. On the other hand, Scherzer has had some success with Gomes, as has Fedde with Avila.

Overall, it’s great to see Dave Martinez adapt and be more flexible. Now it’s time to see how well he adjusts to what he sees, and whether he can draw the right conclusions from these small sample size results. With seven road games against division rivals (Braves and Phillies) in the next seven days, there’s no time to waste. 

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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
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