Inbox: At crucial juncture, are Nats buyers?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier answers questions from fans

June 12th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals just completed by far their best run of the season, a stretch which dates back to May 24, after Washington had just been swept out of Citi Field by the Mets in four games. Now they look like a completely different team -- going 12-5 with the best offense in baseball, dominant starting pitching and a competent bullpen.

So, what to make of these Nationals?

It's time to open up another edition of the Nats Inbox to answer some questions from the fans before the longest homestand of the season begins Thursday with a four-game series against the D-backs.

Feeling good here -- this stretch will at least make the season respectable. Question 1: How are you feeling after this run? Some on Nats Twitter want a fire sale of the team, saying everyone must go (for good return). Your thoughts?
-- @DGQuoVadimus on Twitter

A good baseball team is always more fun to watch than a bad one, so good to hear you’re feeling better. On one hand I don’t think the Nationals were ever as bad as they were through the first two months of the year, when their bullpen was a mess, their lineup decimated by injuries, two-fifths of their rotation sort of unreliable, and seemingly every defensive lapse or baserunning mistake came back to bite them. Some of this recent stretch feels almost like correction to the mean, but right now they look more like the team who many pegged as the most talented club in the National League East.

I do think it’s worth pointing out that aside from an impressive two-game sweep against the Braves in Atlanta, the Nats' competition during this recent stretch included the White Sox, Reds, Marlins and Padres, all of whom are under .500. After this next homestand, I think we’ll all have a better idea of who the Nationals really are this season, with 11 games against the D-backs, Phillies and Braves under their belt.

My opinion of Washington right now is probably somewhere in the middle. This lineup and starting rotation can contend with virtually anybody in the NL, but manager Dave Martinez is still navigating a nightly land mine in the bullpen and they’re still not a great defense and baserunning team.

And the fact is, the Nationals may have built too big of a hole for themselves. They can feel fortunate that no one has ran away with the NL East, but Washington is still seven games out of first place with three teams to jump. That’s not exactly shouting distance, especially considering Atlanta also seems to be putting things together and just added Dallas Keuchel, who could make his debut against the Nats on June 21.

The next few weeks are going to go a long way toward answering the question of what the Nats do at the Trade Deadline as well. If they continue to go on a run and make it a race in the division, then they should absolutely add an arm in the bullpen. But in retrospect, last season they were too slow to pull the trigger and realize it was not their year.

What is going on with Patrick Corbin? After that complete game, he's been struggling. Is he overworked? Injured?
-- @OneBrightBlue1

I attempted to figure that out after Corbin’s latest rough start against the White Sox Tuesday night, but it’s a question Corbin and the Nats are scrambling to figure out. When the Nationals were at perhaps their lowest point of the season -- 12 games under .500 at the start of a Memorial Day weekend series against the Marlins -- Corbin was at his best, tossing a 116-pitch complete game shutout on May 25. He hasn’t been the same since -- an 11.37 ERA in the following three starts.

Following Tuesday’s 7-5 loss, Corbin and Martinez were adamant that they did not believe this had anything to do with Corbin’s workload to start the season, when he threw more than 100 pitches in seven of his first 11 starts.

“I talked to him a lot, too, and he says that has nothing to do with it,” Martinez said. “He feels good. He's going out there and just missing his location.”

I buy it for now and think this could just be a short speedbump for Corbin, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on, because the Nats can’t really afford for him to go on the injured list.

Is it fair to say that Victor Robles is underperforming expectations?
-- @bud_zay

Kind of? It’s been sort of a strange season for Robles. He started off red-hot, then cooled down considerably, started bunting a lot, but still had some pop in his bat and has just sort of settled into not homering often or running a lot in general at the bottom of the lineup. He’s striking out way more than he did in the Minors and doesn’t walk often. But he’s still been incredibly fun to watch, including a full-extension diving catch on the warning track in the fifth inning Tuesday.

It’s all added up to a slash line of .236/.310/.413 for an 85 OPS+ and 1.0 WAR, per Baseball Reference. Despite those lapses in the field early in the season that got so much notice, he has actually been pretty good on defense overall, ranking in the 89th percentile in Outs Above Average -- a Statcast metric that accounts for plays an outfielder makes (or doesn’t) and the difficulty of them compared to his peers.

But Robles has been far from the player many (myself included) tabbed as an NL Rookie of the Year Award contender. He’s still only 22 years old, with less than 310 at-bats in his big league career and plays a premium defensive position, so there’s still plenty of time to be patient. But Robles has been just OK, which depending on how high your expectations were, means he’s probably underperforming them.

What is a realistic timetable for Ryan Zimmerman's return?

This is difficult to predict, since the Nationals have got in the habit of never putting timelines on injuries. Zimmerman was with the team in Chicago this week and is doing nearly all baseball activity -- hitting in the cage and getting reps at first base -- except running, which is a pretty major step when attempting to come back from plantar fasciitis in your right foot.

The Nationals are hoping to get Zimmerman running on the field sometime during this upcoming homestand in D.C., but they will probably take it slow from there. So, my best guess is we’re still talking weeks away at the best-case scenario, since he’d almost certainly need a few games in a Minor League rehab assignment. Maybe late June at the earliest but any time before the All-Star break would probably be a win.

What is Koda Glover's status? Haven't heard anything about him in a long time.
-- @ceeeej793

There hasn’t been much to update. Glover was playing catch and long toss at the team’s complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., but there hasn’t been any indication from the team that he has made any significant strides or is at all close to pitching in a game in the Minors.

What is your favorite HR celebration right now -- Eaton/Kendrick going for a drive, Suzuki catching some waves, or a DJ Parra dance party?
-- @Brett_M_Whitney

They’re all very good, but I’m all in on Gerardo Parra leading dugout dance parties. And I especially love the little tug on Anthony Rendon’s beard after a homer.