The CJ Abrams era begins with the Nats rallying to defeat the Cubs

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CJ Abrams didn’t have that moment for Nationals Park to cling to Monday night. Jogging to shortstop for the first inning, hearing a slight ovation for his first at bat in a Washington uniform, that would be enough. Otherwise, in a debut that followed Abrams landing here in the eight-player trade that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres, Abrams made a strong play and a few routine ones, made a throwing error and got one shot. on the five three strikes. hitless plate appearances.

Mixed results are expected from a 21-year-old. For the Nationals in last place, for this 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs, Abrams’ presence was most important. It wasn’t so bad that he recorded the last out.

Abrams’ promotion to the majors was accelerated when 22-year-old Luis García injured his left groin this weekend. Ahead of the series opener, García moved to the 10-day injured list. Abrams was activated as the short stop of the present and, ideally, the long-term future. The debut of one of five key players to score for Soto and Bell was eventually overshadowed by Josiah Gray’s 10 strikeouts and Nelson Cruz, who capped off a comeback and three-RBI game with his first homer since June 25.

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

As of Monday, Abrams had only played 160 professional games since he was drafted sixth in 2019. or basketball too.

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Dave Martinez knows his age and wants to take Abrams slowly. The manager plans to knock him higher in the ranking – 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 whom Abrams first met at Class AAA Rochester. Washington is now used to the late summer arrival of prospects acquired in blockbuster trades.

First, it was Gray who made his debut for the Nationals last August at 23. A few weeks later, Keibert Ruiz, Gray’s catcher Monday, was promoted at age 23 and took his post. And then here was Abrams, another potential cornerstone in the middle, soft-spoken and fresh-faced and swimming a little in his number 5 jersey.

“This is what we talked about moving forward, part of our childhood, and now we get to see that here,” Martinez said. “And that definitely excites me a lot… watching these guys all play together and grow together. It will be very nice. It will be some work, a lot of work. But it will be fun.”

Washington (39-78) made no deal for Abrams, Gray or Ruiz – or MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III or James Wood – to win in the closing months of an all-out season. The goal is to have them compete as a core in the coming September and October, on a roster filled with free agent contract applications. The dreams are both vague and big.

Taking care of them as a group will then be a crucial process. One difference with Abrams, however, is that he joined the Nationals with 35 Major League starts. Earlier this season, the Padres accelerated him to help the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. replacing it, throwing Abrams straight into the fire. The pressure was high. He recorded a batting average of .232, .285 on-base percentage and .320 slugging percentage, promising promise while more left to be desired.

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

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Rizzo unpacked the trade that afternoon, describing his blueprint of building through the middle of the field: Gore on the mound, Abrams at shortstop, Hassell in the middle with Wood on either side of him. Martinez has already told García that when he returns from the IL, he will slide into second place and be Abrams’ doubles partner. Ruiz could be a cornerstone behind the plate. The hope is that Gray will become a rotational staple even as Ian Happ’s two home runs push his season tally to 31 allowed, the most in the majors.

When that vision becomes a reality—if it is in 2024, in 2025, if it happens at all—Abrams’ defense of leadership will be crucial. In Monday’s first inning, Cubs leadoff batter Nick Madrigal grounded to Abrams’ left, forcing him to make a complete throw for the out. But in the fourth, Abrams’ defense became an adventure. He fielded a helicopter on the run and airmailed a throw to first to put Franmil Reyes in second place on a two base error. To eliminate the next batter, Nico Hoerner, Abrams’ off-target throw took a long stretch from first baseman Luke Voit. Abrams later helped Hunter Harvey out of a jam in the seventh inning by moving into the shallow center and shooting a cross-body pitch 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 huge void at the shortstop, one that García could never fill. And while it will take a lot more than nine innings to see if Abrams is the answer, nine innings was a necessary start.

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

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