Bell adds another clutch performance with late homer

First baseman breaks up no-no in 7th, hits go-ahead HR in 8th in Nats' loss

July 4th, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Josh Bell has been putting up numbers this season that have boosted his All-Star candidacy as well as increased potential trade buzz. The hits, the on-base percentage, the plus-.300 average, they all add up to a standout year for the 29-year-old first baseman.

Then there are the specific moments that show just how productive Bell can be in the clutch, like his 37th career go-ahead home run in the Nationals’ 7-4 loss to the Marlins on Sunday.

“I feel like it’s one of the things that you strive to be in as a kid,” Bell said. “It’s a scenario where the game’s on the line, you want the bat in your hands, you want the opportunity to win it. So that’s what makes this game fun.”

One inning after breaking up Miami starter Pablo López’s no-hit bid in the seventh with a double, Bell walked up to the plate to face reliever Steven Okert. He still was thinking about being struck out by Okert on three pitches in his final at-bat the previous game, so he took the first pitch -- a fastball -- for a ball, and then he jumped on the 79.5 mph slider he had been anticipating.

“I knew what to expect [from Saturday],” Bell said. “I was just kind of waiting for that slider to come back toward the middle of the plate, and I was able to get it in the air.”

Bell’s 12th home run of the season -- a Statcast-projected 411-foot solo blast -- lifted the Nationals to a 3-2 lead and put them in position for a comeback win, before they were stifled in extras.

“He’s not trying to do a whole lot,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He’s staying back, he’s hitting the ball well, getting the ball deep. I’m really impressed this year with what he’s done with two strikes. He’s really, really cut down his chases and really tried to put the ball in play. But when he gets a pitch to hit, he’s taking a good swing at it. He’s been working all year long to be where he’s at right now.”

Bell entered Sunday with a .353/.450/.618 slash line in tie games during his notable season. He also had a .400/.500/.400 slash line across 33 plate appearances in late and close situations -- those in the seventh inning or later when the batting team is tied, ahead by one or the potential tying run is at least on-deck. That .400 batting average ranked the 10th-highest among all players with a minimum of 30 plate appearances in that scenario.

“If you’re going up there and just trying to have a result-oriented process, the game’s too hard,” Bell said. “Over time, if you have the right approach, things are going to work out.”

With a commitment to sticking to the game plan and not doing too much at the plate, Bell has reached base safely in 16 of his last 17 contests. He has tallied a .514 on-base percentage with 25 hits during that stretch.

Bell is following up his hot-hitting month of June, in which he batted .358 with a 1.142 OPS, by going 4-for-12 (.333) with two doubles and a dinger in his first three games of July.

“He’s been great, he really has,” Martinez said. “I can sit here and talk for days about Josh -- not only on the field, but off the field as well, with his teammates. He’s awesome, and he’s playing the best I’ve seen him play.”