Robles has nice game, but Nats’ win spree over

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS -

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.

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