Robles wears out Rox in batter’s box, basepaths 

April 24th, 2019

DENVER -- The third inning of Tuesday’s 6-3 Nationals victory over the Rockies at Coors Field was the inning.

Washington’s former No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, lined a go-ahead, bases-clearing double to left-center field off Rockies starter Jeff Hoffman. He proceeded to steal third base and score the Nationals’ fourth run on Howie Kendrick’s sacrifice fly.

That was all Patrick Corbin and Washington’s bullpen would need on this atypical night in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball.

Robles added a single and another stolen base to finish 2-for-5 with three RBIs on the evening, turning in just his second multi-hit performance over the last 11 games. Up to that point, Robles had been red-hot, slashing .308/.386/.692 with three homers through the first 11 games of the season.

The performance Tuesday night, particularly in the third inning, was vintage Robles -- well, as vintage as anything can be for a 21-year-old rookie. It demonstrated just the kind of dynamic, five-tool player the Nationals envisioned watching for years to come when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2013.

“That’s my game,” Robles said through an interpreter. “It’s a matter of trying to find a way to get on base any way I can so I can score, or if there’s a runner on, try to find a way to get him in. Play the small ball.”

That small ball was on display with Robles’ steal of third, in which he decoded catcher Drew Butera’s pitch-calling signals, and by the end of which he had hit the bag hard with his right foot and flipped into foul territory before getting back safely.

“I read that it was going to be a breaking ball,” Robles said. “So I decided to go, got a good jump, and on the slide I just slid a little late.”

Robles’ awakening at the plate couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nationals, who are down two of their best hitters, Trea Turner (broken right index finger) and Anthony Rendon (left elbow contusion).

Turner was hitting .357 (5-for-14) with a double, two homers and four steals before going on the injured list. Rendon was enjoying a prodigious start to his season as well, slashing .371/.451/.771 with 10 doubles and six homers before being hit by a Jose Urena fastball in Miami last Saturday.

Prior to Rendon’s injury, manager Dave Martinez had Robles hitting in the ninth position in the batting order (with the pitcher batting eighth) in 17 of the 19 games Robles had played in. He said he liked -- and still likes -- Robles as a “second leadoff man” ahead of Adam Eaton in the lineup, but injuries necessitated a move.

Martinez also liked where Robles’ third-inning double landed.

“He’s really good when he stays in the middle of the field,” Martinez said. “Left-center is the key for him. When he starts hitting the ball to left-center field, he moves the ball all over the ballpark.”

Another key?

“I want him to just go out there and have fun,” Martinez said. “And do the little things.”

Little things like picking up Butera’s signs in the third inning and taking third base in a key moment.

Corbin certainly appreciated Robles’ contributions Tuesday after surrendering a two-run homer to Raimel Tapia in the second inning. Moments later, he watched Robles give him the lead, and after the game, he put into a nutshell what Robles means to this Nationals team.

“He does everything,” Corbin said. “Defensively, out there in center, he can go get the ball. And at the plate, he’s just dangerous. He’s really fast, he can do it all. … He’s an exciting player.”