Mike Rizzo: Nationals want Luis Garcia ‘prepared’ to play shortstop before calling him up

The Washington Nationals’ bats have gone cold, and there isn’t a better example of that than shortstop Alcides Escobar.

The 35-year-old veteran is hitting just .123 with one extra-base hit and two RBIs in 16 games. At the same time, middle infield prospect Luis Garcia is dominating Triple-A, hitting .360 with a .613 slugging percentage and 12 RBIs in 17 games.

So, what’s the holdup? Why aren’t the Nationals, who are last in the NL East at 6-13 and have scored four or fewer runs in each game but three, calling up Garcia to give the lineup a boost?

General manager Mike Rizzo said on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday morning that the club is taking it slow with the 21-year-old to ensure he is “prepared” to be an everyday shortstop in the MLB.

“He’s playing great. He’s swinging the bat well,” Rizzo said. “He’s making a transformation back to shortstop full-time, playing every day at shortstop this year. That’s where we want him to play. We bounced him around last season, playing second base and shortstop, and at the big-league level it was almost exclusively second base. He’s learning to play shortstop at a high level in Triple-A.

“He’s always been a good offensive player in the minor leagues. We just want to make sure he’s got his feet underneath him when he gets here to play shortstop every day in the big leagues. We know he’s the future at shortstop.”

Garcia played 70 games with the Nationals last season and 40 the year before, with the vast majority of his playing time coming at second base — his stronger defensive position. But with the team’s signing of veteran second baseman and current leadoff hitter Cesar Hernandez, the team’s intention for Garcia to play shortstop is clear.

Last week, Nationals manager Dave Martinez gave a similar sentiment when talking about Garciawho hit .242 with 26 extra-base hits in 70 games with the big-league club last season.

“What I’ve said before and I’ve always said: It’s not just about hitting with him,” Martinez said. “It’s about the overall game. When he comes here, he’s going to come here and play every day. Whether it’s shortstop, whether it’s second base, we don’t know that. We hope that he can play shortstop for us in the future, but we need his defense to be crisp and clean.”

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that Escobarnormally a below-average hitter with a good glove, is struggling mightily at the plate.

“We know [Escobar] is struggling at the big-league level and Luis is striving at the Triple-A level offensively, but I want to make sure that he‘s prepared to play all facets of the game in the big leagues when he gets here,” Rizzo said. he gets here, he’s going to play every day and we’re going to rely on him because he‘sa big part of the future.”

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