García's called shot lifts Nats to series win in LA

Robles also goes 3-for-5 in renewed role as leadoff hitter

July 27th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- A beautiful thing about baseball is that anything can happen. This game has a way of defying expectations and defying what statistics suggest should happen.

Sometimes, that means the team with the worst record in the Majors winning a series against the best team in the National League. The Nationals sealed that with an 8-3 win over the Dodgers on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.

“It means a lot,” center fielder Victor Robles said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “It helps our morale here, beating a team such as the Dodgers, who are first in the division and such a good team.”

The Nats (34-65) are trying to change things up a bit after an underwhelming first half of the season. One thing they’re trying: moving Robles to the leadoff spot, starting with Monday’s series opener.

It’s not the first time Robles has hit leadoff; he did so regularly when he was one of the top prospects in the Nats’ farm system. He also began last season as Washington’s leadoff hitter. Now, manager Dave Martinez has moved Robles back there in an effort to “jumpstart” the offense. He foresees Robles staying in that role for “a while,” noting that the 25-year-old has been putting in a lot of extra work on his swing with hitting coach Darnell Coles recently.

The (very) early returns have been good, particularly on Tuesday, when Robles went 3-for-5 with a stolen base and two runs scored. It continued a positive (though, once again, very early) second-half trend for Robles, who has gone 7-for-20 (.350) with a home run in five games post-All-Star break.

Although Robles says his approach at the plate remains the same regardless of where he’s hitting, his teammates have noticed a certain spark that comes with him at the top of the order.

“He's got a lot of energy, brings a lot of energy,” shortstop Luis García said through the team interpreter. “And he's always on the basepaths with almost too much anxiousness out there -- which, you can see, he passes it onto the pitchers, so then the pitchers worry a lot about him, which is just the energy he brings up basepaths. It’s great.”

García was the primary catalyst behind the victory, also going 3-for-5 while falling a double shy of the cycle. The biggest of those hits was a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth inning that took Washington from trailing by 1 to leading by 1.

The homer -- off left-hander Garrett Cleavinger -- was García’s first home run since June 15, a span of 31 games. In that time, García saw his OPS fall from .887 to .674 entering play Tuesday. A performance like the one he had against the Dodgers could be what he needs to help turn things around.

“That was a big moment,” said Martinez. “He hit the ball good. All day, he was on everything. So that's good to see. I mean, he was struggling a little bit, and he got into a groove now, and that's what he does. He can hit the ball to all fields and when he stays on the ball, he can hit it hard.”

As García began circling the bases, he pointed toward his manager in the dugout, an affirmation of a called shot.

“[Martinez] asked me before that at-bat if I wanted to face that pitcher,” said García. “And I said, ‘If you let me face him, I’ll hit a double or a home run.’”

It helped to seal a third straight win for the Nationals, a nice bit of success for a team that’s struggled for the better part of 2022.

“They're playing well right now, and I'm proud of the guys, because all year long, we fell short,” said Martinez, who earned his 300th win as manager. “But they don't quit. And I love that about them.”