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Rizzo says Robles needs to ‘progress’ at plate, limit strikeouts originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Victor Robles entered the 2021 season with a chance to be the Nationals’ everyday leadoff man. The 23-year-old center fielder has game-changing speed and enough power to plug the gaps, making him an intriguing candidate to get into scoring position ahead of star hitters Trea Turner and Juan Soto.
However, any plans to put Robles in the leadoff spot are on hold while he figures out how to maintain a consistent approach at the plate. After going 0-4 against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, Robles has put up a .200/.324/.250 slash line with 16 strikeouts and eight walks on the year.
The Nationals asked their former top prospect to revamp both his stance and approach over the offseason, a significant task for a player still young enough to be in Double-A. So far, Robles has drawn more walks but his power has completely disappeared. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo joined 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday and talked about Robles’s approach.
“At the dish, I think that he certainly needs to progress and put the ball in play way more often,” Rizzo said. “He’s striking out at a rate that’s uncommon for his skillset [and] what we’ve seen from him in the past. So he’s gotta shorten his swing up and put the ball in play and let his skill set take over. The guy runs very, very well and he needs to put that into play more often. To me, he’s gotta use the whole field more often. He’s gotta bunt, push bunts and drag bunts, and get on base any way he can and be that leadoff hitter. Be it if he’s hitting ninth or eighth or first, his job is to get on base.”
Robles’ strikeout rate is 22.5% this season, which is just below his career average of 23.4%. Where he’s particularly struggled is against breaking balls. According to Statcast, Robles is hitting just .118 against breaking balls with a whiff rate of 32.4% — compared to 19.2% on fastballs. He’s hitting the ball to the opposite field more than he ever has but not with enough authority to do much damage.
Of course, Robles is playing some spectacular defense that warrants playing him every day even with his offensive shortcomings. But given the Nationals’ overall struggles at the plate, they need production any way they can get it.
“Obviously his throwing arm is elite and [he] has thrown out a few baserunners that have run on him,” Rizzo said. “His all-around game is important to us because he’s an elite defender in the outfield [but] he certainly needs to put the ball in play more often and more often than he’s been doing right now. It’s a big part of his game.”
For more interviews, tune into the Sports Junkies on NBC Sports Washington, weekdays from 6-10 a.m.