“They said they need a guy like me in the lineup,” Nelson Cruz told reporters after signing a 1-year/$15M free agent deal with the Washington Nationals this past March. Cruz, who turned 42 in July, was signed to provide pop in the middle of the Nats’ lineup, and he brought plenty of experience to a relatively young club which was destined to get younger as the season went on, and the expectation was they could flip him to a contender at the trade deadline if the Nationals weren’t in contention in early August.
Cruz struggled, however, putting up a .234/.313/.337 line, 16 doubles, and 10 home runs in 124 games and 507 plate appearances in his 18th major league campaign, which ended in mid-September, when he was shut down with inflammation in his eye which eventually required a surgical fix.
When the August 2nd trade deadline came and went and Cruz wasn’t dealt, Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo explained there wasn’t a good enough offer to convince him to deal the veteran DH.
“Nelly Cruz is such a mentor and such a presence in the clubhouse, especially with our younger Latin players that I wasn’t just gonna give him away for nothing just to move on,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this past August 3rd. “He likes it here. He wanted to be here. He’s a terrific teammate and leader in the clubhouse. So we didn’t get the level of prospect that we wanted for him, so we kept him.”
Cruz played 30 games after the deadline and before he ended up on the IL, with a .240/.308/.308 line, a double, and two home runs before his season ended with the eye issue.
Manager Davey Martinez was hoping till the final game he could get Cruz back in there before the end, but it didn’t work out.
Speaking on the final day of the regular season, Martinez said the experience of managing Cruz ended up being a great one.
“He’s unbelievable, he really is,” Martinez told reporters. “I mean, you think about him and you think about the guy that I grew up idolizing in Roberto Clemente, right? A lot of similarities there, really. He’s been awesome. Not only on the baseball field, but off the field, teaching young players in the clubhouse, teaching them how to act in the clubhouse. He’s been all of that. I was blessed to have him. We’ll see what the future [holds] for him. I mean, like I said, I feel like he still wants to play. So if he can take care of that eye, I think he still can play. I mean he keeps himself in great shape.”
Though the on-field production wasn’t what the Nationals hoped for when the club signed him, Martinez said Cruz was all they hoped for in the clubhouse.
“It was absolutely awesome, it really was,” the manager explained. “And I leaned on those guys [veterans on the roster] for a lot of different things, to relay some messages. They did it really well. And I always tell those guys, ‘Hey, I don’t know how long you’re going to play or what you’re going to do in the future, but I think you’ll always have some kind of position in baseball if you really want it, whether mentoring, or obviously, you know, Nelson is a GM, is going to be a GM for the World Baseball Classic team, so there’s many, many opportunities after you play to do different things.”
Nelson Cruz is scheduled for surgery on left eye end of Oct. Inflammation is in inner corner, procedure to remove extra skin blocking his vision. Expects to resume baseball activities 6-8 weeks. He said, "Vision is everything for hitters. But the good thing is, it can be fixed."— Jessica Camerato (@JessicaCamerato) October 5, 2022
Cruz told MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato on the final day of the regular season he was scheduled to have surgery on his eye.
“That would be beautiful to start seeing the baseball again. Vision is everything for hitters,” Cruz told the reporter.
“But the good thing is, it can be fixed.”
“‘You can only see clearly with the right eye,’” he explained. “‘When I close this one, it’s not clear. I need my eyes to be sharp, to be able to see the ball, especially see spins.’ Estimates [it] affected him for almost 1.5 yrs, got worse recently.”