The first ball put in play last night was hit CJ Abrams’ way, and the Washington Nationals’ new, 21-year-old shortstop, acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell deal at the deadline, and called up on Monday, ranged to his left, fielded the grounder off Chicago Cubs’ leadoff man Nick Madrigal’s bat and hit Luke Voit’s glove at first base with a strike.
It was an early test for the 2019 1st Round pick in his debut in the nation’s capital.
Going into the game, Abrams’ new manager, Davey Martinez, said the shortstop was excited to get the game started and return to the majors after debuting with the Padres earlier this year.
“He seems like a very good kid,” the first-year skipper in D.C. said of the infielder who was ranked as San Diego’s No. 1 prospect and as the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball entering the 2022 campaign.
“He’s anxious to go out there and play, so we’re just going to go out there and let him play,” Martinez added after penciling Abrams in as his No. 7 hitter for his first game, though that will likely change.
“Eventually, what I’d like to do is move him up in the lineup a little bit, but I just want him to get his feet wet, you know, so I thought about just batting him seventh today, and let’s see what he does,” the manager said.
Abrams made a positive first impression on Martinez as well, when they spoke after Abrams came up, from Triple-A Rochester in the Nats’ system, with incumbent shortstop Luis García (who’s going to move to second base when he’s back), placed on the 10-Day IL on Monday after tweaking his groin over the weekend.
“Quiet kid. But a good kid,” Martinez said after talking to Abrams.
“A lot bigger than I thought in person. But I told him, ‘Hey, this is your new home. Be where your feet are, and go out there and just play the game and have fun. I told him two things that really annoy me is if you don’t run to first base hard and you miss signs. So other than that, go play the game, and enjoy it and if you have any questions for me, feel free to come to my office, I’m always around.
Martinez, who’d previously shared the plan to shift García over to second when Abrams got the call, confirmed he’d told his 22-year-old infielder the news on Monday.
“Yeah, I talked to him yesterday and I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you will move to second base, and I want you to play second base.’ So when we start getting him back on the field he’ll take his ground balls over at second.”
Abrams was hard at work at Triple-A Rochester, where the Nationals sent him to get his feet wet in a new organization, and learn to play the “Nationals’ way” as GM Mike Rizzo said last week, with a focus on his defense while he was with the Nats’ top minor league affiliate for a few weeks.
“I mean, everybody cares about me,” he said of his own first impressions of his new ballclub when he spoke to reporters in his new clubhouse. “I’ve been working with [Nationals’ minor league infield coordinator José Alguacil] a lot working on defense, and just playing, still the game plan, have fun with it.”
Alguacil was in Nationals Park as well last night, to help ease the transition for the young infielder.
“It was just to bring somebody here with him just because he knows him,” Martinez said.
“He was working with him down there, and just to get him a little bit acclimated, so we have Gary [DiSarcina] who’s done a great job, he really does, and has been doing it for many, many years, so I want Gary to build that relationship with CJ as well and start handling a lot of his workload.”
Abrams put up a .232/.285/.320 line with five doubles and two home runs in 46 games and 139 plate appearances with the Padres after debuting in April, and put up a .290/.343/.355 line, going 9 for 31 with two doubles in eight games at Triple-A Rochester as of Sunday, but he’d only played 76 games before coming up with San Diego, and he’d played 160 games in all as a professional going into last night’s game.
“Yeah, from my understanding, and from what I heard after conversations with some people is that he handled himself really well,” Martinez said of Abrams’ run with the Padres earlier in the season.
“Even though he was young, he did well. And all they wanted him really to do was catch the ball for them, and he showed that he could do that.
“That’s what I told him today, it’s just all about making the routine plays, and just go out there and have fun.
“He’s got tons of ability. I just watched him take some ground balls, he moves very well, so like I said, we’re going to watch him play, with the understanding is that we got to remember — he’s only played like I think 130-140 games total, so he’s very young, he’s very young to the whole professional baseball thing as well. So we’re going to keep good eyes on him. I trust my coaches, we already had conversations with him about the infield stuff, about the hitting stuff, so we’re going to keep very close eyes on him and have conversations with him, and get him ready to play here every day. We’re going to see him play every day until I deem he needs a day, and we’ll go from there.”
Now that he’s up, the goal is simple.
“We want him to stay here, and that’s our goal,” Martinez said.
Abrams said he knew everyone would be watching him closely, but he said he wouldn’t let it bother him.
“The attention kind of just comes with the plan,” he said.
“I don’t really pay attention to much of that, I just go out there do my thing out there and have fun.”
Abrams went 0 for 4 at the plate, and he made an error on a high throw to first, but he also made a couple range-y plays in the field, showed off the arm, made a few strong throws in what ended up a 5-4 win, and he impressed his manager in the process.
“I was watching his pre-pitch, I watched the way he moves, he was good. His angles were really, really, really good, which was awesome,” Martinez said after the game, “and he had some good swings up at the plate.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun with him,” the manager added.
“I mean, he’s got, like I said, he’s got the potential to be really, really good. And you can see that. But like I said, he loves to play, we talked a little bit about him being here, and he says so far everybody has been great, and his teammates look they like to have fun, and so it’s been good.”