Though he’s struggled at the plate over the first two months of his 1-year/$15M deal with the Washington Nationals, Nelson Cruz has had an impact on the club, in the clubhouse and the 41-year-old, 18-year veteran has started to heat up at the plate.
Going into last night’s game, Cruz had a 6-game hit streak going over which he was 11 for 22, and he was 22 for 63 in his previous 17 games (.349/.397/.492) with three doubles, two home runs, 11 RBIs, five walks, and eight runs scored in that stretch.
Following a three-hit game on May 24th, the veteran DH talked to reporters about his role with the struggling, rebooting ballclub, and his message for his younger teammates early this season, as they try to get things going and play better baseball than they have in the first two months.
“Just do your part,” Cruz said, “come and play hard, and give it all you have, and hope for the best. I believe we can bounce back and start doing good things, and winning games.”
So far this season, he added, he’s liked what he’s seen even if the results haven’t been there for the team as a whole.
“We take good at-bats, we work hard. I see players come early to work out in the cage, work on their mechanics,” he said, “... so it’s a process as a young player you have to learn and go through ups and downs.”
His manager said before Thursday’s game Cruz is a great mentor and someone the younger players on the team can learn a lot from on and off the field.
“You watch what he can do,” Davey Martinez said, “and the other day — he’s very aware of the situations of the game. Keibert [Ruiz] stole, he was in tune to get right behind him and steal second base. He goes first-to-third.
“Two-strike approach with a guy on base, you’ll see him not trying to do too much, and he hits the ball the other way.
“These are the things that I want our players to learn, I really do. Because he’s a student of the game. He watches everything, like I said, he knows situations very well. He plays the game with his head up every day, so it’s awesome to see that, and like I said, when I often talk to young guys, I often tell them, ‘Watch what he does, because he’s done it for so many years, and he’s been successful in so many different ways.’ A lot of our guys don’t even know how good of an outfielder he was at one time, and he was good, so he understands that part of the game as well, so for me it’s just like I said, get to appreciate what he can do, and what he can do to help you as a player, and learn. I mean, he’s here, so pick his brain, this guy has done it for a long period of time And they do.
“I mean, and he does have conversations with guys.”
Martinez pointed to one player in particular he thinks has benefited from Cruz’s influence.
“I think he’s really helped [Maikel] Franco out a lot,” the manager said. “You watch Franco hit the ball the other way, which he tried to really pull everything, and I think the reason why he’s got the RBIs he has now is because he’s able to stay on some balls and drive them the other way and has done well with that, so that’s a good thing.
“[Cruz is] a professional, all the way around he’s a professional,” Martinez added.
Asked if there were any players in his own 16-year playing career who helped him the way Cruz has helped younger players with the Nationals, he pointed to a veteran who had an impact on him early in his own days in the majors.
“I played with a lot of guys,” Martinez said, “the one veteran guy as a young player that really helped me was Andre Dawson. I played next to him, but just listening to him, talking to him, just about outfield play, about running bases, everything, he taught me a lot, and like I said, I was very young, so I was very naive to a lot of things, because I had the ability to do this and do that, but there was a lot more to it to learn, so he taught me a lot of the game.”