DENVER — There was the double ripped into the power alley, and the full-extension single, a surprise steal of third and a swipe of second that left Victor Robles sprawled in the dirt, looking over his shoulder, a wide grin on his face.
There was also a whole baseball game Tuesday night, nine innings and everything, but it came with more evidence that Robles should remain near the top of the Washington Nationals’ lineup. His three-run double in the third inning was the difference in the Nationals’ 6-3 win over the Colorado Rockies. The center fielder added those two steals, crashed a few sinking liners down in the left-center gap, and has 11 extra-base hits in 85 plate appearances.
Robles has been a constant — if sometimes confounding — bright spot of the Nationals’ up-and-down start, and was a big reason they ended the night at 11-11 instead of two games below .500.
“He does everything,” said Nationals starter Patrick Corbin. “Defensively, out there in center, he can go get the ball. And at the plate he’s just dangerous.”
Corbin took the ball on Tuesday and improved to 2-0 on the season. Washington’s bullpen held on with three scoreless innings punctuated by a four-out save for closer Sean Doolittle. And Robles, all of 21 years old, bundled a look into the future with an answer for the present. He had been fixed in the ninth spot of the order for the first 19 games of the year. That should change, even after he struck out with the bases loaded in the ninth, and even when Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner return from their respective injuries.
There were and still will be growing pains with Robles. But there is more than enough upside pushing back.
“You know what, right now with the injury to Trea and Rendon not able to play yet, he fits the bill right there,” Manager Dave Martinez said after the win. “But we’ll see what happens later on.”
The Nationals fell behind 2-0 and made quick work of that deficit. They strung together four straight hits in the third, capped by Robles’s bases-clearing double. Robles was hitting ninth to start the season so the Nationals could have a “second leadoff hitter” and keep some pressure off the former top prospect. Yet he has been bumped up in the lineup as Rendon, the Nationals’ star third baseman, recovers from a left elbow contusion suffered over the weekend.
Martinez wondered how Robles would handle the switch, and hoped he wouldn’t try to do too much. He wants Robles to be patient, to take his walks, to keep looking to bunt for hits if the infield shifts him to pull. Then Martinez got that towering double that skipped in front of the warning track in left-center. Then he watched Robles break toward third, slide in awkwardly, belly flop past the bag and crawl back ahead of a tag.
Head athletic trainer Paul Lessard and Martinez bolted up the dugout steps after Robles’s fourth steal of the year. Robles has already needed them a few times this season, such as when he crumpled to the ground trying to rob a home run during a recent homestand, or when he slammed into the wall in Miami on Saturday night. But he waved Martinez and Lessard away, brushed the dirt off his uniform and took a deep breath before settling on the base.
Robles later revealed that he picked up a curveball sign from second and, because of that, thought he could take third. Then he jogged home on Howie Kendrick’s sacrifice fly to make it 4-2. That’s the give and take.
“That’s my game,” Robles said through a team interpreter. “It’s a matter of trying to find a way to get on base any way I can so I can score. Or if there’s a runner on, find a way to get him in.”
He was at it again in the fifth, singling with two outs and stealing second soon after. It showed how quickly he can manufacture scoring chances, with his bat and legs, even if Juan Soto struck out swinging to end the inning. That can be beneficial in the ninth spot, setting up Adam Eaton or Rendon or Soto to drive him in. But the value increases at the top of the order because he gets more at-bats, sets the table for the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters, and gets more RBI opportunities.
That happened when Eaton tripled with two out in the seventh. But Robles couldn’t get him in, flying out to right, and that’s when the bullpen took over for Corbin. Corbin’s final line included six innings, five hits, three runs (two earned) and six strikeouts on 103 pitches. He was first relieved by Joe Ross for one out, Tony Sipp for two and Wander Suero for two more before Doolittle entered for his 11th appearance of the season.
The Nationals then stretched their lead in the ninth as the Rockies’ bullpen imploded. They loaded the bases with a walk, double and single, and scored two runs when Soto walked and Kendrick was hit by a pitch. That gave Doolittle a cushion to lean on as he finished the game, preserving a late push, Corbin’s solid start and a win that had Robles’s fingerprints all over it.
“I feel like I can contribute at any place in the lineup where I’m put,” Robles said. “I’m trying to do my best to help my team win. That’s all I can do.”