The Nationals opened the 2022 season playing some stellar defense.
Alcides Escobar was stuffing the highlight reel, flashing the fielding prowess that earned him a Gold Glove with the Kansas City Royals in 2015. Several outfielders racked up assists throwing out runners with darts to home plate. Manager Davey Martinez felt his team’s defense could be a real strength anchored by veteran players with track records of success in the field.
Thirty-one games in, mistakes have outweighed the web gems. Washington tallied two errors Tuesday to bring its season total to 25, giving the club the third-most miscues in the major leagues. Advanced metrics concurred. The Nationals entered their game against the New York Mets ranked 27th with -9 Defensive Runs Saved.
“Some of these errors that we’re making are just, brutally honest, kind of lazy mistakes,” Martinez said following the 4-2 loss. “We gotta continue to talk to them, we gotta continue to move our feet, finish the play. Half the play is catching the ball, the other half is throwing the ball. So we gotta finish the play all the way through.
“I think these guys are more capable of doing that. These are veteran guys. We’re not talking about rookie guys. These are guys that have done it.”
Escobar, who was scratched Tuesday with an infected fingernail, and third base Maikel Franco are tied for the team lead with five errors apiece. That left side of the infield has 22 combined years of major-league experience between them. Franco has never been an exceptional fielder — and to his credit has channeled his inner Manny Machado on multiple occasions — but the Nationals expected steadier glovework between him and Escobar.
Neither infielder has a firm hold on their position moving forward. Third baseman Carter Kieboom has begun throwing after an elbow injury in spring training delayed his start to the season. He figures to be in the mix for everyday at-bats once he’s healthy again, though Franco's solid start to the season at the plate could complicate things.
Meanwhile, shortstop Luis García is putting up MVP-esque numbers at Triple-A Rochester. The Nationals are keeping him in the minor leagues so he can work on his defense. GM Mike Rizzo called the soon-to-be-22-year-old their “future at shortstop” in a radio interview two weeks ago, but it’s unclear how long they plan to wait before calling him up. García has gone 16 straight games without an error since opening the season with four in five games.
The Nationals are sticking with Escobar and Franco for now. Martinez said the team is taking groundballs every day to limit the mistakes — “that’s the focus of who we are.” He added that he wants his infielders to anticipate the ball being hit to them more often moving forward.
Washington’s hot-and-cold offense and shaky pitching staff aren’t going to carry the team to wins very often. Defensive mistakes like the ones the Nationals stumbled into Tuesday on a pair of routine groundballs will only make those victories more difficult to come by.