Bell a spark plug for Nationals with hottest start of career

Slugger goes 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs and 3 runs scored in opener vs. Rockies

May 4th, 2022

DENVER -- Look across the National League leaderboards, and Josh Bell’s name is there.

The first baseman is off to the hottest start of his seven-year Major League career, recording an NL-leading .464 on-base percentage, third-ranked .366 batting average and sixth-highest OPS (1.013) in his first 24 games of the season. His offensive production is translating into the win-and-loss column for the Nationals, too -- they are .500 when he records at least one RBI. 

“It’s awesome,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It’s a lot of fun right now to watch him work at-bats, it really is. He’s staying on the ball, he’s hitting the ball up the middle, he’s using the whole field. When he gets like this, we’ve seen it before, he can carry a team -- and he’s doing it right now.” 

Bell hit .365 in April -- his best first-month mark since batting .286 in 2019 -- and looks to just be getting started. In the Nats’ 10-2 series-opening win over the Rockies on Tuesday night at Coors Field, he went 3-for-5 with a trio of RBIs, a three-run homer off starter Germán Márquez and three runs scored.

When Márquez missed on a down-and-away pitch, Bell sent it a Statcast-estimated 368 feet into left field. Both of Bell’s career hits (2-for-21) against Márquez have been home runs.

“It was just a fastball up and away,” Bell said. “I beat him to the spot there, got it up in the air. So yeah, just short and simple.”

The 29-year-old switch-hitter credits that kind of simplified approach for his success. He has been effective from both sides of the plate, too, an area in which he has struggled early in previous seasons. In total, he is second in the NL with 30 hits and tied for fourth with 18 RBIs.

“Realistically, I’m just trying to hit low, hard line drives every at-bat,” Bell said. “If the pitch is elevated, then I’ll do damage with it. But if it’s not, I don’t want to bury it into the ground. For the most part, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a good place.”

Bell has been a spark plug for a Nationals team that snapped an eight-game losing streak by winning three of their last four games. Younger teammates like Keibert Ruiz (3-for-4, 3 RBIs) have learned by watching Bell. His plate production has instilled confidence in their pitchers, including Tuesday’s starter Erick Fedde (seven innings, one run in the victory), who felt a boost after Bell’s dinger.

“It just really doubles down the effect of going out there and getting ahead and saying, ‘I’m going to be really aggressive first pitch. Even if they want to be aggressive, I have a lead,’” Fedde said. “It just gives you a great mindset moving forward.”

For all the statistical areas Bell is making a mark on, he doesn’t pay attention to the numbers. But if he were to highlight facets of the game that matter to him at the end of the season, he already is having an impact on those.

“I feel like if I had to choose a category, RBIs are cool,” Bell said. “I think OPS is something that I’ve grown to be more interested in over the last couple of years. Those two at the end of the year, if I can lead in those two categories, I’m going to be in a really good place and so will the team.”