Projects are going to be a significant portion of what remains in a season losing its gusto.
The Nationals are 12-21 after Tuesday’s 6-0 loss in Philadelphia, stumbling through this season with a winning percentage lower than the doomsday one of 19-31. They are in last place in the National League East. They are eight games out of first place. They are two games ahead of Pittsburgh, which has the NL’s worst record. It’s ugly.
Progressively, the season will become about what’s next as opposed to what’s now. Going 1-0 every day will not matter. The slippage becomes too much, and no mantra can heal Stephen Strasburg or Starlin Castro, or make under-performing veterans awaken.
Which turns the season over to the youngsters, including Luis García.
He’s 20. He looks like Juan Soto in stance and frame. But, his offensive approach looks nothing like Soto. García starts “swinging in the on-deck circle” his manager recently noted. That process has caught up with him at the plate, as has his luck.
García was operating with a .400 batting average on balls in play two weeks into his relief of Castro. That number quickly went down, and his batting average predictably came with it. García entered play Tuesday with a .255 batting average and .283 on-base percentage. It’s very difficult to walk him because he swings at almost half the pitches thrown to him. Of those, more than a third are out of the strike zone.
He’s young, undisciplined and ripe for the picking in the major leagues because of it. García’s free-swinging ways are countered by his bat-to-ball skills. In typical fashion, his greatest strength is his greatest weakness. He thinks he can make contact with almost any pitch -- and often can -- but that doesn’t assure a positive result.
“We don’t ever want to take his aggressiveness away, but what we would like for him to do is get better pitches to hit,” Davey Martinez said recently. “Don’t try to put every ball in play. Because he could put every ball in play, but we want to get him in the strike zone and start working counts. When he does that, he hits the ball really hard. When he gets the ball up, he hits the ball really hard. We want him to understand the game. His bat-to-ball skills are really good. He doesn’t swing and miss much against right-handed pitchers. So, we want him to get pitches to hit and work counts.”
García is in the majors to learn. He did some of that Tuesday. Philadelphia ace Aaron Nola showed him what devastating knuckle-curveballs look like at this level.
Nola threw García a fastball, then a changeup in his first at-bat. García doubled. After that, he threw García seven knuckle-curveballs in the next 10 pitches. García swung at five and made no contact.
“That first at-bat, I was actually looking for the changeup,” García said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. “He started me off with a fastball. But, I sat on a changeup second pitch, and I hit it, and made good contact with it. The next two at-bats, I was also looking for the same pitch, the changeup, and he threw some great pitches and worked me a lot better…. His approach was much different.”
Nola and J.T. Realmuto figured out García long before he figured them out. This does not happen at Double-A Harrisburg, where García spent last season. He’s in an unfair position. He would not be playing if not for injury and extreme external circumstances. Yet, here he is, learning eye-popping lessons on a Tuesday in Philadelphia.
“Once he goes through this league, and he understands what they’re going to do, he’ll start making adjustments,” Martinez said. “We all went through that as a young player.”
García will have another shot at Nola in three weeks when the Phillies come to Nationals Park. He’ll have a chance to show what he has learned. The Nationals will probably be out of chances to do anything more than play out the string.