Nelson Cruz’s 1 for 4 game in the Washington Nationals’ loss to the San Francisco Giants on Saturday left him 13 for 84 (.155/.253/.226) with two homers, 11 walks, and 17 Ks in 22 games and 96 plate appearances on the season.
Cruz, 41, signed a 1-year/$15M deal early this spring, with the Nats hoping the addition of a big bat to the middle of the order along with Juan Soto and Josh Bell would help boost the club’s offense, but thus far this season the 18-year veteran has struggled at the plate.
Shortly after signing, Cruz discussed what it would be like to face a new group of pitchers regularly after spending the majority of his career in the American League.
“Definitely, I think that’s the biggest challenge, you know, facing new pitches that basically maybe I’ve seen once in my career, I have to trust the scouting reports and watch video, that’s what my preparation looks like on a daily basis, before I go to bed, when I show up to the stadium, I want to have a pretty good idea what to expect from pitchers, and I will figure it out,” he said.
Is that playing a role in his slow start?
Cruz’s manager, Davey Martinez switched things up with his lineup recently, hoping it might spark the DH in D.C.
Martinez flipped Cruz and Josh Bell who’d been hitting 3rd and 4th, respectively, early this year, hoping to create more RBI opportunities for the designated hitter.
“I just wanted to do something different,” he explained, “... but I wanted to see — [Cruz] is so used to driving in runs, I wanted to see if we could get somebody else on for him, make him feel a little bit like he’s going to drive in some runs, but that’s all a bit — I know Josh is swinging the bat well, [Yadiel Hernández] is swinging the bat well, so we’re kind of trying to put [Cruz] in the middle.”
Cruz went 0 for 6 with two walks and a K in two games as the cleanup hitter.
“He hit one ball hard today,” Martinez said on Day 1 of his experiment.
“I still think once he gets in a groove, he’s going to light up and catch fire,” the manager added.
“He’s another one that I think he’s got to get the ball up a little bit, get more pitches in the strike zone, and he’s fouling off good pitches that he should hit, and he knows that, but I know he’s a good hitter and he’s going to start hitting.”
“I put Josh in the three-hole, honestly strictly for [Cruz],” Martinez explained before he put Cruz in the cleanup spot for the second time.
“Josh has been taking his walks, he’s been getting on base,” the manager added, “... and he was hitting over .300 — to see if he could get more guys on base for Nellie, because Nellie is so used to hitting driving in runs, see if we can get him going, by just putting more guys up on base for him.”
While the rest of Washington’s lineup piled up hits, with 22 total and 14 runs scored in their series opening 14-4 win in San Francisco, Cruz went 0 for 5 with a walk, and followed up a day later by going 1 for 4 in the Nationals’ 9-3 loss on Saturday.
“He’s still chasing balls outside the zone,” Martinez said when asked to diagnose Cruz’s early season struggles.
“Some of those balls, I thought were borderline. He needs to — and I know what kind of hitter he is — when he’s going good he can take a first-pitch fastball or breaking ball and smash it, so I’m never going to take away his aggressiveness, because he knows what he’s doing, but just like yesterday he had some good swings, but they weren’t in the strike zone, so I want him to be conscious of that, hey, get ready, get a good pitch to hit and let it go.”
Cruz went 0 for 4 with a run scored and an RBI in the series finale in San Francisco, reaching on a two-on, no-out chopper to third the Giants’ defender whiffed on. It was initially ruled a hit before the official scorer changed it to an error.
Will a visit to Coors Field, where he’s 8 for 19 (.421/.542./790 with a double and two home runs in seven games) help the slugger get going?
Cruz is the cleanup hitter for the Nationals tonight..
HERE’S THE NATIONALS’ LINEUP FOR THE OPENER WITH THE ROCKIES: