WASHINGTON — Victor Robles entered the Nationals’ doubleheader Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks batting .045 on the season. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage, typically around .900 for star hitters and .750 for solid regulars, was a paltry .170 through his first nine games.
The Nationals have played Robles on and off over their first two weeks of the 2022 campaign as they’ve looked for their former everyday center fielder to bust out of the slump he’s endured for essentially the last two years. On Tuesday, he recorded hits in both games and provided a spark for their offense in key moments.
Robles was the first Nationals hitter to record a hit against Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner in Game 1, breaking up the left-hander’s early no-hit bid with an RBI double in the fifth. He scored one play later to give them all the runs they would need in their 6-1 victory.
In Game 2, Robles snapped Arizona starter Tyler Gilbert’s streak of 11 straight batters retired with a leadoff single in the sixth. He’d then score the Nationals’ only run of the game on a César Hernández double later in the inning.
“He’s working hard,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said after Game 1. “It’s good to see him get rewarded with a double after all the work he’s put in…but he’s having good at-bats. He’s seeing pitches, his swings are a lot better. He’s missing some balls now but, like I said, keep swinging, swings are good. I really like where he’s at and I think he’s only going to get better.
“He laid off some good pitches today that [hitting coach] Darnell [Coles] and I were talking about. Before, we thought he would chase those balls. He laid off them today, which was nice.”
With a 1-for-4 outing in the Nationals’ series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday, Robles has now recorded a hit in three straight games for the first time since Aug. 15-18, 2021. They’re his first three hits of the year, giving pause to any notion that the Nationals should give him back the keys to the starting center field job. But for the first time this season, Robles has a string of offensive performances to build on.
Despite looking up at the scoreboard every day with a batting average that begins with zero, he’s tried not to think about his statistics. Robles has instead been focused on raising his hands higher in his stance to feel “more free” with his swing and get his bat around quicker.
“I don’t focus on my personal numbers at all,” Robles said in Spanish, as translated by Nationals interpreter Octavio Martinez. “As long as I feel good out there and that the team’s winning, that’s all that matters at the end of the day. I know those numbers will be there.
“I’m obviously very excited and happy that the results are there. I haven’t stopped working, like you said, but it’s good to go out there and see the results coming out.”
In addition to leading the Nationals’ bats, Robles also put his glove on display in his typical highlight-reel fashion. He made a diving catch to rob Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker of a hit in Game 2 and nearly completed a circus catch he popped up to himself one play later — though the catch was negated by the ball hitting the centerfield wall on its way down.
The Nationals have seen plenty of what Robles can do in the field. What will ensure he remains part of their plans for the future hinges on his ability to do more offensively like he did Tuesday.
“He wants to play hard,” Martinez said. “He’s not selfish at all. He’s the most unselfish kid I know and he wants to help his team and that’s all he worries about, helping his team win. And today he got us going and he uplifted the guys. All those guys — Juan Soto, man. Every time he’s up there, he’s pulling for him. Nelly Cruz, all those guys, César, [Alcides] Escobar, they all want him to succeed and do well.”