Manager Dave Martinez likes to remind people Victor Robles is young. At 21, the Nationals center fielder is just beginning his first full season in the majors.
Early on, the Nationals have seen the highs and lows that can come with Robles’ age.
Through three games, Robles is hitting .455 with five hits, including his first home run of the season on Saturday and two doubles on Sunday. Robles’ results at the plate are a reminder of why he spent the last few years as the Nationals’ top prospect.
But there have also been mental errors, both in the outfield and while running the bases. On opening day against the New York Mets on Thursday, Robles misread a situation and got caught between home and third. Two days later, he committed a throwing error and was picked off at first.
Martinez and third base coach Bobby Henley reviewed the mistakes with Robles.
“I just keep telling him, ‘Hey, we want you to be aggressive, but be aggressively smart,’” Martinez said. “We’ve talked about the base running. Yes he got picked off and he understood. … He really wants to help us win.
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“I told him you’re going to do that, just remember don’t let the game speed up on ya.”
Martinez said Robles is open-minded about learning from his mistakes.
Teammate Adam Eaton attributed the missteps to new-season jitters, saying you “could see it out of his chest, his heart was racing so much.” He said once rookies reach June or July, players tend to get settled.
At the plate, the Nationals like to use Robles as their “second leadoff” hitter. Though he is ninth in the batting order, Robles can appear at the top of the lineup to begin innings. By doing so, general manager Mike Rizzo said Robles can “jump-start” the lineup for Eaton and Trea Turner.
So far, the strategy has worked. When Robles begins an inning as the leadoff hitter, he’s 4-for-6.
“He’s really driving the ball and he’s having really good at-bats,” said Turner, who hit a three-run homer Sunday after being set up by Robles and Eaton. “So being in the ninth hole is good because you’ve got the top of the order coming up. Anytime you can have someone contribute like he’s contributing, I think it’s huge for our team and it lengthens our lineup.”
In the past, the Nationals avoided including Robles in part of any trades. They paid the Dominican Republic native an international signing bonus of $225,000 when he was 16 and have spent the last few years molding him. Paired with Juan Soto, the Nationals see the two as cornerstones moving forward without Bryce Harper.
But the Nationals are aware there will be a learning curve. Speaking to reporters after opening day, Robles said he would grow..
“You got to remember he’s 21, he’s young,” Martinez said. “And he’s really exciting to watch. Speed. He’s got a cannon. He hits, hits for power so it’s just building blocks. And we have to keep continuing to teach and continuing to talk to him.”