Even after going 0 for 8 in the first two of three with the Pittsburgh Pirates in D.C., Nelson Cruz had a .287/.360/.455 line in May/June, after a .155/.253/.226 start to his 1-year/$15M free agent deal with the Washington Nationals in the month of April.
Cruz fouled a ball off his left shin in the series opener with the Bucs, and it took a minute to shake it off, but he did remain in the game on Monday night, and the Nats’ skipper said on Tuesday night his 41-year-old DH was good to go again.
“He’s doing well. I talked to him today, he said he felt good, he wanted to play, so he’s in there, and he’s going to DH for us,” the fifth-year manager told reporters.
Cruz played in 71 of the Nationals’ first 77 games, with a .244/.325/.382 line, 12 doubles and eight home runs on the year.
He’s about to turn 42 on July 1st, but the 18-year veteran’s skipper said he is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I would have never known,” Martinez said of Cruz’s impending 42nd birthday.
“Knowing him, and knowing what he does to prepare himself every day, the sky is the limit really. I mean, I look at him and honestly, if you look at him and you say he’s that old, because I won’t repeat it, I would never have thought it. He keeps himself in great shape, he works hard every day, he never talks about ever giving up the game, and good for him, so I can see him playing for another couple years if he wants to, so we’ll see, but he keeps himself in great shape, he really does. And he’s been awesome. He’s a professional through and through, even in his early struggles this year here, he was always communicating with the young players and the veteran guys, and keeping everybody upbeat, and he was that voice in the clubhouse, so he’s been great.”
Josh Bell has been great too. Going into Wednesday’s game, Bell, 29, had played in 76 of 77 this season, and after going 2 for 4 with a double in Tuesday’s win, he had a .311/.392/.495 line, 13 doubles, and 11 HRs. He’s also been a quiet leader according to his manager.
“He’s one of those quiet guys who leads by example,” Martinez said. “He’s one of those guys that speak up when he needs to, but he’s awesome. For me, I mean, you watch this guy play, he plays the right way every day. I never have to look up and watch him. He runs hard to first base all the time, he’s always looking to take an extra base for as big as he is. I always tell him, ‘You play the game like a little man, you’re like always running around and play with a lot of energy,’ which is awesome, so he’s been a blessing, he really has. For me, for the coaching staff, he’s always there for his teammates. he loves the game, he really does, and I’m fortunate to have him.”
Martinez was asked about Bell growing into a leadership role during his time in D.C., but he said the switch-hitting first baseman came over from Pittsburgh in the December 2020 trade the player he is now.
“Honestly, he’s been that same guy. We knew that when we got him. We talked a lot to the coaches. We have one of his coaches with us now, Dave Jauss, and he talked so highly of him when we got him, and I asked him the same question in Spring Training: ‘Since you’ve been here, I know you know him longer than I have...’ but he said the kid hasn’t changed a bit, he’s still the same guy.’”
Will either Cruz or Bell be around after this year’s August 2nd trade deadline passes? It doesn’t seem likely. Both are on expiring contracts and we saw what the rebooting Nats and GM Mike Rizzo did at last year’s deadline. Their next important contributions to D.C. might be in the return they bring if/when they are dealt. But both will leave behind good examples for the players they impacted in their time in the nation’s capital.