The CJ Abrams era begins with the Nats rallying to beat the Cubs – The Washington Post

The CJ Abrams era begins with the Nats rallying to beat the Cubs - The Washington Post

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CJ Abrams didn’t have that moment for Nationals Park to cling to on Monday night. Jogging to shortstop for the first inning, hearing a light ovation before his first at-bat in a Washington uniform, those should do. Otherwise, in a debut that followed Abrams landing here the eight-player trade that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego PadresAbrams made a strong play and a few routines, recorded a throwing error and struck out once in five straight plate appearances.

Mixed results are expected from the 21-year-old. For the last place Nationals, away this 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs, Abrams’ presence mattered most. That he recorded the final wasn’t so bad either.

Abrams’ promotion to the majors was accelerated when 22-year-old Luis García injured his left groin over the weekend. Before the series opener, García went on the 10-day injured list. Abrams has been activated as the shortstop of the present and, ideally, long-term future. The debut of one of the five key players in net for Soto and Bell was later overshadowed by the 10 strikeouts of Josiah Gray and Nelson Cruz, who capped a comeback and three-RBI game with his first home run since June 25.

“It’s super exciting,” Gray said of Abrams playing behind him. “For me personally, it gives me a little bit of an extra edge to go out there and kind of dream about the future. Like, these are the guys that you can be your teammates for. years to come.”

Before Monday, Abrams had played just 160 professional games since being drafted sixth overall in 2019. And before that, he was a star shortstop for Blessed Trinity Catholic High in Roswell, Ga., a kid who chose baseball but could have thrived in football. or basketball too.

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Knowing his age, Dave Martinez wants to take Abrams along slowly. The manager plans to hit him higher in the order — maybe even first — but settled for seventh against the Cubs and starter Marcus Stroman. When Abrams arrived at Nationals Park, he was joined by José Alguacil, the club’s minor league infield coordinator, who became familiar with Abrams on Class AAA Rochester. Washington has now become accustomed to the late summer arrivals of prospects acquired in successful trades.

First it was Gray debuting for the Nationals at 23 last August. A few weeks later, Keibert Ruiz, Gray’s catcher on Monday, was promoted at 23 and took his position. And then here was Abrams, another potential cornerstone up the middle, suave and fresh-faced and swimming a little in his No. 5 jersey.

“That’s what we talked about going forward, some of our young people, and now we’re seeing some of that here,” Martinez said. “And that definitely excites me a lot … watching these guys all play together and grow together. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a little bit of work, a lot of work. But it’s going to be fun.”

Washington (39-78) did not deal with Abrams, Gray or Ruiz – or MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III or James Wood – to win in the final months of a completely lost season. The goal is to have them competing as a core, on a roster fleshed out with free agent signings, in future Septembers and Octobers. The dreams are both vague and big.

Training them as a group, therefore, will be a critical process. One difference with Abrams, however, is that he joined the Nationals with 35 major league starts. Earlier this season, the Padres rushed him to replace the injured Fernando Tatis Jr., throwing Abrams straight into the fire. The pressure was high. He posted a .232 batting average, .285 on-base percentage and .320 slugging percentage, flashing promise while leaving more to be desired.

But more, whatever that may be, would not come with the priests. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo initially asked Abrams in talks for Max Scherzer at the 2021 trade deadline. The Padres declined, Scherzer went to the Dodgers, and Abrams was still around for the six-player package that materialized for Soto and Bell on August 2.

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Unpacking the trade that afternoon, Rizzo described his blueprint for building across the middle of the field: Gore on the mound, Abrams at shortstop, Hassell in center with Wood on either side of him. Martinez has already told García that, when he returns from the IL, he will slide to second and be Abrams’ double partner. Ruiz could be a cornerstone behind the plate. The hope is that Gray will be a rotation staple, even if Ian Happ’s two home runs raised his season total to 31 allowed, the most in the majors.

If that vision becomes a reality — if that’s in 2024, in 2025, if it happens at all — Abrams’ defense at the top position will be crucial. In the first inning Monday, Cubs leadoff hitter Nick Madrigal rolled a grounder to Abrams’ left, forcing him to make a full-force throw for the out. But in the fourth, Abrams’ defense became an adventure. He launched a chopper during the run and airmailed a throw to first, putting Franmil Reyes on second with a two-base error. To retire the next batter, Nico Hoerner, Abrams’ outfield throw required a long stretch by first baseman Luke Voit. Abrams then later helped Hunter Harvey out of a seventh-inning jam by lining up in shallow center and hitting a crossbody throw to Voit, showing his potential and likely preventing the tying run from scoring.

Since they traded Trea Turner a year ago, the Nationals have had a massive void at shortstop, one García was never prepared to fill. And while it will take much more than nine innings to see if Abrams is the answer, nine innings was a necessary start.

“I mean, everybody cares about me,” Abrams said Monday afternoon when asked for impressions of his new organization. So add clues to the scouting report.

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