Alex Call, Nationals outfielder, has an exhaustive pregame routine


ATLANTA — Ahead of Monday night’s game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves, Alex Call headed back to the visitors’ dugout at Truist Park after a hit in the second round of batting practice. Most positioners and helpers typically retire to the clubhouse at this point, leaving coaches and a few starting pitchers to fuck flyballs in the outfield.

But Call ran to left field where he was supposed to play, running at game speed for every ball hit near him. He does. Before a game against the Miami Marlins last weekend, Call jumped to the midfield wall and robbed catcher Tres Barrera of a batting practice home run.

“This is where I get my work, so I take this time really seriously because I want to be the best outfielder,” Call said. “And go after all the tough ones, because otherwise you don’t really get a chance to face the tough ones in the game, do you? So if I can put a few into practice, I’m just preparing myself to have a lot of success in this situation. So that is very important to me.”

The 27-year-old Call is trying to make the most of his chance at the Nationals, who recalled him from waivers on Aug. 7 after the Cleveland Guardians designated him for action. And recently manager Dave Martinez kept him in the lineup while giving him looks in left and center field.

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The extra outfield representatives are just one of the many parts of what Call describes as an “exhaustive” pregame routine. It begins at home with morning worship before Call turns to a virtual reality machine that has a program that allows him to study pitchers and see their release points before hitting the field.

As soon as he arrives at the stadium, he eats lunch, goes to the weight room and then to the batting cage before again observing the opponent’s starting pitcher (and also the opponent’s assistants if it’s the first game of the series). He will use armbands and weighted balls to loosen up his arm prior to batting practice. Eventually he will have dinner and relax with his teammates. He also has a pregame playlist. If he’s missing something in his routine, he’ll make sure it’s taken care of before the game.

At home games, Call swings in front of the dugout just before the first pitch. He uses a variety of batting gloves for practice and matches, so he uses those waning moments to break them in and build up a grip so he doesn’t waste time before his first shot.

Call started this routine this year; He’s had success with it and believes that results will come if he stays the course. So he tries not to focus on the daily results, believing that this prevents him from being the best version of himself.

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“You’re giving yourself the best chance of success by digging deeper into these routines and focusing on that rather than the results,” Call said. “I pride myself on being consistent. Those last few games were kind of funny because I had a really good stretch and then a not so good stretch, but those are just the results. Try not to focus on that.”

Analysis: Why the rebuilding Nationals added outfielder Alex Call

As a waiver, Call’s play will be monitored while Washington decides where he fits in going forward. Since joining the club on August 14, Call has reached .232 in 24 games. He went 3-for-23 in his first nine games. Then he showed flashes of potential, like a two-game stretch in early September, where he scored seven hits, including four hits against the St. Louis Cardinals, only to go 0-for-18 in his next five games.

But what fascinates the Nationals about Call is his ability to put the ball in play and not chase courts outside the zone. Call chases only 24.5 percent of out-of-zone pitches. And he’s hitting 83.7 percent of the pitches in the zone, according to FanGraphs.

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At the Minors in 2019, he hit out 28.6 percent of the time because he couldn’t connect with high fastballs. So he bought a junior hack attack pitching machine during the offseason so he could practice attacking high fastballs. His strikeout rate dropped to 14.4 the next season in the Minors in 2021. According to Baseball Savant, he’s hitting .265 on fastballs this year but has struggled with breaking balls and offspeed — hitting .154 and .167, respectively.

If he can find a way to improve on those numbers against non-fastball, he could be a versatile player for the Nationals at least for next year and possibly beyond. Martinez has raved about his energy and said he plays “like his hair is on fire,” and that’s what made Call someone he cares about.

“He understands the game and he knows how to play the game, I like that. I just want to give him a chance,” Martinez said. “We are looking for players who can do several things. If [Call] might or might not play here any day, we’re trying to figure that out. But he’s a guy who could potentially do both – play three or four times a week, come off the bench. Plays in all three outfield positions… so not only is he interesting for me, but also for this organization.”



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