Nelson Cruz, 41, and struggling at the start of his first year as the Washington Nationals’ DH, and his 18th major league season overall, after he signed a 1-year/$15M free agent deal with the Nats in mid-March, was 0 for 3 with a K in the opener in Colorado’s Coors Field and 1 for 16 in four games on the current road trip, when he left the game against the Rockies before making a fourth plate appearance in the top of the seventh on Tuesday night.
“Cruz had a little stiffness in his back, lower back, so I wanted to get him out,” skipper Davey Martinez told reporters following the 10-2 win for the visiting club, “... get him worked on the rest of the night, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow, so it will be a day-to-day thing.”
It wasn’t the first he’d heard of an issue with Cruz’s back, but it was something that cropped up relatively recently.
“I heard about it today,” Martinez explained, “and he tried before the game, he got it loose, and then as the game went on, sitting there, it just tightened up, and he said it wasn’t bad, but I said, ‘Hey, let’s just get you out, and get you worked on, and we’ll see how you feel tomorrow.”
Through 21 games and 104 plate appearances early this season, Cruz, who wasn’t back in the lineup on Wednesday night, is 13 for 91 (.143/.233/.209) with two home runs, 11 walks, and 18 Ks on the year.
Earlier in the day, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies about what he’s seen from the veteran DH in the first month-plus with the Nats.
“I feel comfortable because he feels good,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “He had a little back spasm last night, but I think his overall health is good, and that makes me feel good, because — at the end of the season I think his numbers are going to be there, just because he knows how to go through the grind, and he’s such a strong, capable hitter, and I think that he’s got a lot of hits ahead of him this year, and I think that the protection factor of Juan [Soto], with Nellie behind him and Josh [Bell] behind him — I think is important not only for Juan, but for the middle of our lineup.”
A veteran of 18 seasons, who signed at the start of Spring Training, and rushed through the process with his teammates starting slow, Rizzo said, is not something he is real concerned about.
“I wouldn’t be worried about him just yet,” he said. “He’s proven that he gets the benefit of the doubt because of the career that he’s had, I just like the fact that he’s swinging the bat, and playing the game healthy. I think that the hits are going to be there and he’s showing the bat speed that he’s had in the past, and when he’s hit balls with that launch angle, they still leave the ballpark, and I just think that he’s — again, shortened Spring Training, a veteran player, he needed those five weeks to get his body into shape, kind of joined us late, but I think that he does his job each and every day when he comes to the ballpark and he’s a leader by example, and he’s good protection for Juan Soto in that batting order. And he’s going to get his, so at the end of the season we’ll look up and say Nellie had a hell of a season like he always has.”
Cruz’s manager talked before last night’s game about the decision to give him more time off to let the back get better.
“I talked to him, we had a conversation today, and he’s still a little stiff, so I’d rather, like I said, I’d rather be cautious,” Martinez explained.
“He’ll have an opportunity to pinch hit if we need him, and hopefully get him back in the lineup tomorrow.”
Consider his age, and Cruz’s 18 years of work in the majors, do they need to use him a bit more cautiously at this point?
“When I watch him, he moves around pretty good for his age, and he keeps himself in great shape, as we all know,” Martinez said, “so ... but I told him when we first got him, ‘Hey, we’ll converse every day, you’ve got to be honest with me, let me know how you feel. You’re not the first guy I’ve had here who needed days off,’ because he’s a little older, but, ‘Of course we want you out there as many days as possible, but if you need a day, don’t be afraid to ask.’ He did come up with a stiff back, he went out there yesterday, he felt good before the game, it was kind of cold, and as the game went on he stiffened up. At that point I didn’t want to risk something else happening to him so we took him out, and like I said, I talked to him again today and he said he felt a little better, but just he feels a little tight in one area so I said, ‘Look, why don’t we just not start you and if we need you to pinch hit, can you do that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ So we’ll go with that for now and then we’ll see how he feels after the game and tomorrow.”