WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez writes Josh Bell's name on the Washington Nationals lineup card virtually every single game this season and plans to keep doing so.
“I look at it like that every day until something else happens,” Martinez said.
Something could happen to change that very soon. While Juan Soto could be the biggest star dealt before the Major League Baseball trade deadline next week, Bell is the Nationals player most likely to be on the move — and the veteran first baseman's value has rarely been higher since he's in the midst of one of his best seasons.
Bell, who turns 30 on Aug. 14, is batting .304 with 13 home runs and has driven in a team-leading 53 runs. A pending free agent after the season, he could be an ideal rental acquisition for a contender in need of a solid bat just about anywhere in the lineup.
“He’s been unbelievable," Martinez said recently. "I know he loves it here, and he tries to put everything behind him. Honestly, he’s really good about being where his feet are. I talk about that with him all the time, ‘Hey you can’t control what happens in this game, but you can control what you do,’ and he’s been amazing at that.”
Bell has shown a knack this season for getting hits in important situations. He has 37 RBIs when up with runners in scoring position and eight more with anyone on base.
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Martinez has been impressed with what Bell has done with two strikes. That includes nearly half of his home runs.
“He’s really cut down his chases and is really trying to put the ball in play,” Martinez said. “When he gets a pitch to hit, he’s taking a good swing at it. But he’s been working all year long to be where he’s at right now.”
Bell spent his first five seasons in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates and is in his second with the Nationals, so he has never gotten the chance to play in the postseason. His approach to big moments seems tailormade for October.
“I feel like it’s one of the things that you strive to be in as a kid,” Bell said. “It’s a scenario where the game’s on the line, you want the bat in your hands, you want the opportunity to win it. So, that’s what makes this game fun.”
Bell has given younger teammates advice about how to handle those scenarios and could even help as a mentor after succeeding in that role in Washington.
"He always thinks good things are going to happen," Martinez said. “He’s been great, he really has. I can sit here and talk for days about Josh not only on the field but off the field, as well, with his teammates. He’s awesome, and he’s playing the best I’ve seen him play."
Beyond Bell and Soto — who doesn't have to be traded right away because he's under team control for two more seasons — the Nationals have a handful of other players who could be moved at the deadline. That list includes infielders César Hernández, Maikel Franco, Ehire Adrianza and Alcides Escobar, right-handed starter Joe Ross and reliever Steve Cishek, all of whom are set to be unrestricted free agents.