Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon completed Robles’s dart from center field with an acrobatic tag. The crowd cheered. Robles lifted his right index finger. He wagged it, conjuring images of former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo taunting opponents after rejecting their shots.
“Don’t run on me,” Robles said after the 3-1 victory. “Don’t run on me.”
“When you make those kind of throws, it’s 'Wow, what a great throw,’ ” Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier said. “But even better is when you’re moving left and right, especially when you’re going left as an outfielder and you have to come back toward third base, that’s really impressive because that’s really all arm strength. He showed it off.”
These throws from Robles are becoming commonplace.
Tuesday’s highlight brought to mind the night before, when Robles threw a 99.5-mph strike to home plate and nailed Joey Votto, who was trying to score from second on a single to center field. It was the fourth-hardest outfield assist in MLB this season.
Both of Robles’s assists was clocked at over 97 mph. Those bring his season total to nine, setting a Nationals single-season record for a center fielder. Advanced metrics place him as one of the best outfielders this year, and the 22-year-old has quietly emerged as a Gold Glove candidate in his first season as a big leaguer. He has committed only three errors.
Martinez and Robles said he’s logged extra reps in the outfield, and that has made the difference. He tries to “really stretch it out” in long toss, get his feet under him, and then fire away with everything he’s got. That’s the formula that has made him an elite outfielder.
“To be honest, when you’re not afraid to make plays, then good things happen,” Robles said in Spanish through an interpreter. “And I’m definitely not afraid to make things happen.”
He has bolstered a much-improved Nationals outfield. Last year, Washington had Bryce Harper playing out of position in center, which hurt the defense overall. He wasn’t ranging into the gap, so Robles’s speed and arm strength in the middle of the outfield has strengthened what was in 2018 one of baseball’s worst defenses.
In noting the Nationals outfield has improved largely thanks to Robles, Martinez also mentioned the gradual progression of 20-year-old left fielder Juan Soto, who hit a solo home run Tuesday. Both are hardly removed from their teenage years, yet they represent the core of the Nationals outfield.
And Martinez, like most everyone else, was still marveling about Tuesday’s highlight-reel play.
“Victor has an incredible arm,” Martinez said. “The play was unbelievable.”