Robles has nice game, but Nats’ win spree over
WASHINGTON (WPNS) — If there weren’t five tools, there were 4 1/2: blazing speed, a strong arm, a hit-stealing glove, hard contact at the plate and hints of power that left room to wonder what Victor Robles may be when his development is complete.
That will not be for some time. Robles is just 21, still a prospect, and the Washington Nationals are only weighing his potential with a very big scale. But that exercise offered bright flashes of hope at Nationals Park on Thursday, even with the Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings that snapped a fivegame winning streak.
Robles, starting as a major league leadoff hitter for the first time, finished with a single, an RBI, a run, walk and a stolen base. He also made two stirring plays in center field — one with his arm, the other with his glove and legs — to remind the Nationals that this summer’s sorrow could have a not-so-distant expiration date.
“I definitely want to get him in,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said of Robles after the game. “I’ll look for opportunities to get him in there, but he’s exciting and he’s our future.”
These teams met Thursday because the weather did not allow them to play Sunday. That led to another hectic week for both teams: The Cubs returned to Washington in the middle of a sixgame homestand, and the Nationals are in the middle of playing three teams in three cities in three days.
A few hours before first pitch Thursday afternoon, the evidence of that transience was all over the Nationals’ clubhouse — dozens of blue duffel bags, fresh off a late-night bus ride from Philadelphia, covered the floor in front of each player’s locker; socks and shirts spilled onto the carpet; suitcases were already being piled into a truck for a flight to Atlanta to face the first-place Braves.
The Nationals were unpacking and packing at the same time. Then they had to play a baseball game.
“The hardest part is just staying engaged,” Manager Dave Martinez said before the loss. “We got in late, they got in late. We got a late start today. I told the boys: ‘Sleep in as much as you can, and let’s get ready to play. I mean, [the Cubs] got to endure the same thing, so just be out there and ready to play.’”
That began with Joe Ross, the Nationals’ right-handed starter making his second appearance since returning from Tommy John surgery.
His first start, Friday against the Cubs, was rained out after Ross threw just two innings. It is never clear how a pitcher will be after Tommy John, which reconstructs the ulnar collateral ligament in the throwing arm. There are questions of whether velocity will drop, how that could affect offspeed pitches, how long it
could take for a change-up or slider to be what it once was.
Ross had the surgery in July 2017 and had been recovering since. That included learning to throw again, long days rehabbing under the beating Florida sun and a handful of minor league starts that nudged him closer to the major league mound. Now an encouraging return can be added to the list.
“Hopefully next time I can get ahead a little bit better and pitch deeper into the game,” said Ross, who gave up two runs in five innings and exited after 74 pitches. “The first complete game back, feel pretty good about myself.”
Robles’ contributions were woven in and out of the pitcher’s afternoon before they seeped into the Nationals’ evening.
First they came in the field: Robles twice helped Ross turn solid contact into outs. In the first, he cut off a ball in the left-center gap and threw out Anthony Rizzo as he tried to stretch a single into a double. In the fifth, Rizzo hit a sinking liner into rightcenter, and Robles made a diving catch that likely saved a run.
Then they came at the plate a half-inning later: Robles lifted a ball into center to score Adrian Sanchez with a sacrifice fly. Then they came on the base paths in the seventh: Robles walked with two outs, swiped second for his first career steal and scored on a Trea Turner double to knot the score at 3.
“Day after day, you get more and more comfortable,” Robles said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “This is my third time starting, and every time it’s gotten a little bit better. Right now I feel like my confidence is about 100 percent.”
The Nationals could not extend that rally into yet another come-from-behind win. Javier Baez, who hit his 31st homer in the sixth, drove in Kris Bryant with a bunt single in the 10th that surprised Martinez and pitcher Sean Doolittle. The Nationals went down quietly in the bottom half for their first defeat since the Cubs beat them at Nationals Park a week before.