Nelson Cruz officially became the DH in D.C. on Thursday, joining the club in West Palm Beach, FL, where the 41-year-old, 17-year veteran met his new teammates and manager at the Washington Nationals’ Spring Training facility. Cruz, who got a 1-year/$15M contract from the rebooting ballclub showed up ready to go in an abbreviated build-up for the 2022 campaign, following the 99-day lockout before MLB and the MLBPA agreed on a new CBA.
“I talked to him today and — a little bit — I’m going to speak to him some time tonight or tomorrow and see, but he said he just needed a day or two to get acclimated,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters in his daily press briefing, “… but he said I can put him in the game whenever we deem he’s ready.”
“He got some at-bats today, I know he’s been hitting, so we’ll see what he wants to do and if he’s ready to play we’ll plop him into some games.”
A recruiting effort which featured calls from both Juan Soto and Assistant GM and VP of International Operations Johnny DiPuglia, helped to facilitate the signing, and the Nationals landed a veteran bat who steps in as a leader on a young team his manager thinks will benefit from what Cruz brings to the field and to the clubhouse.
Just watching Cruz work, and how he goes about his business, his new manager said, will provide a positive example to the rest of the roster.
“For me it’s just watching him, watch his routine, watch the way he approaches each day, each at-bat. He’s good. He really is,” Martinez said, noting he’ll be able to learn plenty from Cruz as well.
“He has a plan every time he goes up there. I’m actually looking forward to it. I explained to him, ‘Hey, look, I don’t ever claim to know everything, so I’m going to learn a lot from you as well, so we’re going to do this together, and I know you’ve got a good bunch of teammates, and they’re excited that you’re here.’”
Having a player can step into a clubhouse and almost immediately take on a leadership role is unique and part of the appeal which led the Nationals to go after the veteran slugger.
“I think it’s just a testament to, one, who he is,” Martinez said, “... and the respect he has amongst the league. This guy — he’s fearless, he understands the game. Players watch him when he hits. I remember when he was in Minnesota we went — and he was DH-ing over there, and I remember watching our guys when he got up, because you know he’s done it and he’s been good, and watching his approach, watching him hit, them talking about him. It always stood out in my mind. Just to have him here with us now, especially with our group and how young we’re going to be. It’s pretty awesome. And just like I said, watching him today, watching him take pitches, watching him get ready, it was a treat. And I enjoyed it.”
“I think coming up I think I was close to a lot of players that I learned from through the years,” Cruz said when he too was asked about taking on leadership roles and finding ways to help and also learn from teammates wherever he’s played over the years. “Even the young guys I learn from them also, and I love to help any way that I can reach a guy, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a position player, also can be a pitcher, anything that I see on or off the field, I love to help.”
“I don’t think I try to come up and be a leader, it just happens,” he said at another point in his first press conference with his new team.
“I’m going to be myself. I think you should go by example and lead by example.
“I come early, work hard, and I do what I’m supposed to do on the field and off the field, and just let other things just take care of themselves, you know.”
Cruz also talked about getting to play with and learn from the 23-year-old slugger who called to convince the veteran to join the cause in the nation’s capital, though he said he doesn’t think there’s much he needs to teach Soto about being a leader.
“I don’t think you have to tell him anything,” Cruz said.
“He takes care of himself, he works as a leader.
We've never related to a player more. pic.twitter.com/ib4yrZ3wdO— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 17, 2022
“The way he acts, all the things he does are first class. Experience is the only thing that can also make you grow, and it’s just a matter of time for him.”
And he acknowledged that with all the experience he has in the game, there is still plenty he can learn from Soto.
“Definitely. Definitely,” Cruz told reporters.
“Like I say, I try to learn from everybody, even young guys. I’m always watching, always paying attention to stuff, you never know what can be beneficial for yourself.”
Considering he just signed, and the club hadn’t even begun playing Grapefruit League games when the Nationals’ DH and manager spoke on Thursday, Martinez didn’t have an answer when he was asked how he planned to line his hitters up, but you can bet on the fact that he is running through the potential lineups he could field this season.
“We’re going to sit down and look at how this is all going to transpire,” Martinez said. “You talk about Soto, you talk about Cruz, for me, the guy that to me who is really going to benefit and help too, is Josh Bell. I mean, all of a sudden you put Josh Bell with these two guys, I think he’s going to get better. I really [do]. Like I said, he came to this Spring Training in such good shape and ready, and he looks great, so having those three guys in the middle of our lineup, it’s going to be fun to watch.”