Meneses finding his stride in No. 5 spot

July 4th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- Maybe overshadowed by Patrick Corbin’s shaky outing, defensive miscues and missed bases-loaded opportunities, designated hitter took a step toward re-establishing his offensive rhythm in the Nationals’ 8-4 loss to the Reds on Tuesday at Nationals Park.

Following a breakout rookie season in which he mashed 13 home runs in 56 games after debuting on Aug. 2, Meneses has been looking to generate production at the plate in spite of a dip in long balls. He entered the game batting .280 with two homers through 77 games, but his RBI total had stalled at 39 since June 25, when he drove in three runs in San Diego.

Still, Meneses has been dominating another statistical category: he leads all players with a .491 batting average against right-handers with runners in scoring position (minimum 25 plate appearances). Meneses ranks ahead of Corey Seager, Luis Arraez, José Altuve and Geraldo Perdomo in the top five in the Majors.

“I think that because of my success in those kinds of situations, I’ve been able to stay here at the big league level,” Meneses said.

After Meneses went a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts on June 27 and Friday, manager Dave Martinez gave him a day off on Saturday in Philadelphia. On Monday, Martinez bumped Meneses to the No. 5 spot in the batting order behind Dominic Smith in the opener against the Reds.

“Joey’s been in a little bit of a funk,” Martinez said Monday. “… I just wanted to get [Smith] up and get Joey out of that four-hole for a minute. When he starts swinging the bat better, then we’ll do something else.”

Meneses went 0-for-4 in the series opener against Cincinnati. The next afternoon, he came to the plate in the sixth inning in his proven spot: with runners on second and third and right-hander Fernando Cruz on the mound.

On the third pitch of the at-bat, Meneses delivered a line-drive single into left field that brought home Jeimer Candelario for his first RBI in more than a week.

“I was looking for a comfortable pitch that I could make hard contact with and drive that run in,” Meneses said. “[Cruz] left, fortunately, a splitter that hung a little bit, and I was able to connect and drive the run in.”

“He got the ball up in the zone [and] he got ready early,” said Martinez. “It was the first time in a long time he’s got the ball in the air to left field, and that’s great. So we’ve got to continue to work with him. He’s working diligently to get set up early and use his legs a little bit more. Today was awesome.”

Meneses cut the Nats’ deficit to four runs with no outs in the inning. He was part of a bases-loaded rally that eventually ended when CJ Abrams and Derek Hill struck out swinging and Lane Thomas flew out to left.

“An RBI’s an RBI; we’ll take every one we can get,” Martinez said. “Keep working on it. [Meneses will] get it. He’s a good hitter, and he’s got good bat-to-ball skills. But we need him to start driving in runs like that for us.”

Meneses has had the confidence of his teammates in his first season as the Nationals' DH. No. 3 hitter Candelario said during the San Diego series: “Getting on base and getting in scoring position for me is really, really important … [Meneses is] a guy that can put the barrel on the ball. I want to be able to score for him and for the team.”

When Meneses saw his hit land in left field and Candelario cross home plate, a sense of relief came over him. The work he has been putting in to improve his at-bats was reflected not only in his stats, but in a key moment of the game.

“I felt a form of peace, and I was excited,” Meneses said. “I’ve been struggling in general, and it always relaxes you and gives you a little bit of comfort to be able to do your job and drive in that run in that kind of situation.”