PHOENIX — Plenty of members of the Nationals' roster and coaching staff had seen Yunel Escobar over the years and thought they had a decent sense of him as a player. Most did not, however, think he would be what he has proven to be through his first six weeks in a Washington uniform.
"You know, I played against him at Triple-A when he was with the Braves, and he just dominated that league," Denard Span said. "Then I got to the big leagues, and it seemed like he got away from what he was doing at Triple-A when he was with the Braves and then Toronto. I've just been impressed with his work ethic, the way he goes about his business in the cage. He's just a professional hitter. He has a plan when he's going up to the plate. That's what I'm most impressed with. I didn't realize he had that type of gameplan as a hitter playing against him."
Escobar's preparation before games and his ability to put that preparation into practice once he steps into the batter's box has been on full display over the last week. He notched the first 5-for-5 game of his career last Monday against the Marlins, then he duplicated the feat Monday night against the Diamondbacks.
Yes, that's a pair of 5-for-5 games within a week. He's the first Nationals player ever with multiple 5-hit games in a season, and he's the first major leaguer with multiple 5-hit games in a week since Ichiro Suzuki in 2004.
"I'm very happy I had the opportunity to do that," Escobar said through interpreter Nilson Robledo. "I'm very happy I was able to do that for the team."
Escobar has done a whole lot for his team in the last week. Beginning with the 5-hit game against Miami, he's now batting a cool .577 (15-for-26) over his last seven games, raising his batting average to .342 (fifth-best in the NL).
Escobar isn't exactly producing much power — his last 24 hits have all been singles — but the sheer volume of hits he's providing are making a difference, helping both to advance leadoff man Span while also ensuring runners on base for Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper behind him.
"He's calm and he's just taking what's given to him," manager Matt Williams said. "He's hitting the ball middle of the diamond, which creates opportunity. You stand at the middle of the plate and it looks like it's the most-crowded spot on the diamond, but it's actually the biggest. He understands himself, he takes the ball the other way when he has to. We've seen him, over the course of this season anyway, get a bunch of big hits for us."
So, what was the key to Escobar's latest 5-hit night?
"It's the bat," he said with a smile. "It's not me. I'm going to protect that bat."
In fact, Escobar suggested he will retire the bat he used Monday night, having already left it in a protective box inside the clubhouse at Chase Field.
He would have brought the bat back out one more time Monday had his spot in the lineup come up one more time in the top of the ninth. Alas, his teammates couldn't quite move the line enough to give him a crack at becoming the first D.C. major leaguer to record six hits in a game since 1944.
Escobar wasn't too disappointed, though.
"I didn't want to hit anymore," he said. "Enough is enough. My timing is so perfect right now. Sometimes I don't want to do too much."