Abrams - Early Returns; Room For Improvement:
CJ Abrams, 21, committed two throwing errors in Friday’s series opener with Cincinnati’s Reds in Washington, D.C., and his manager talked in the post game presser following the Nationals’ 7-3 loss about what he would have liked to see his shortstop do on the throws, while noting how much he’s liked what he’s seen from the infielder acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell deal at the trade deadline earlier this month.
Abrams threw across his body on a grounder up the middle in the first, and skipped a throw by Luke Voit at first base, and on the second one he tried to make a play when his manager said he probably should have put it in his pocket.
“The one he went up the middle, we want to get him to start spinning around, not trying to throw across his body,” Martinez said.
“That’s something that they’re going to work with him on — he’s not very comfortable doing it, but they think it’s going to help him out a lot better, and the other one, yeah, he probably shouldn’t have thrown.”
Martinez chalked the mistakes up to enthusiasm on the part of the young shortstop.
“He’s young, he’s fired up, he wants to make all the plays, so that’s something that we’ll have to talk to him about and get him used to not doing, just throwing the ball just to throw it.
“But he’s good. He’s got so much range. I love the fact that he cuts so many balls [off up] the middle because of his angles, but he’s going to be good.”
Abrams, a 2019 1st Round pick by the Padres, taken 6th overall, made his MLB debut earlier this season, and struggled at the plate as a young major leaguer, coming over to the Nats with a .232/.285/.320 line, five doubles, and two home runs in 46 games and 139 plate appearances in the majors, and going into Sunday’s game, he was 6 for 42 (.146/.167/.146) with six singles and 11 Ks in his first 11 games with his new club.
What’s stood out for his manager watching Abrams at the plate?
“We’re definitely — we’re working with him about using his lower half a little bit better, being on time,” Martinez explained. “When he is on time, he hits the ball fairly hard as we see, but consistently being on time, staying on the fastballs, stuff like that. I don’t want to really change much of what he’s doing right now. I just want him to continue to learn, continue to grow. He understands he’s got a lot to do, a lot to learn, but I just want him to go out there and play.”
While they send him out there to play, the Nationals’ coaches are watching closely to see if there are ways to help Abrams as he gets more comfortable with his new team.
“I mean, right now we want him to go out and play,” Martinez said.
“We’re constantly watching him. We’re taking notes. [Hitting Coach] Darnell [Coles] has been on him about maybe staying on top of the ball, talk a little bit about two-strike approach, stuff of that nature, but you know, when he does hit the ball, the ball comes off his bat fairly hot. So, it’s just a matter of consistency, right?
“The biggest thing for him is consistency, knowing what balls you can hit hard, know what balls you need to lay off of, and like I said, hitting with two strikes, it’s a tough thing to do, but if he’s going to play every day, he needs to learn to know how to do it.”
Martinez acknowledged a lot is being asked of the young infielder, with limited time in the majors, but his new club sees him as a major building block as they reboot the organization and try to build the next contender in D.C.
“That’s why we’re like — for me it’s like, hey, we always have a conversation every day about, ‘Just go play,’ right? Go have fun, go play. Don’t think about nothing when you go up there, see the ball, and just try to stay up the middle of the field and hit it. That’s all — my message to him is every day the same thing, ‘Hey, get ready early, see it, and just try to stay up the middle of the field.’ I always tell him, ‘You’re going to hit, I know you’re going to hit, so whenever you work on something in the cage, that’s when you work on it, but when the game starts you just react to the baseball.”
So far, so good, Martinez said. Not where they want him to be, or what they think he can do at his best, but not bad either.
“He’s been pretty good. At times you can see that he gets a little frustrated, and I have to reiterate, ‘Hey, you’re doing fine.’ I mean, and I tell him all the time, because I’ve been through that at that early age. I said, ‘Hey, look, I hit .139 my first year in the big leagues, and it stunk, believe me. But you’re going to figure it out, and I didn’t have a bad career. So, just baby steps for you,’ and he kind of gets that.
“And I know by looking at him, he appreciates that he’s our guy, right, and we’re going to take care of him, but like I said, he’s young, and we got to be patient.”
Davey Martinez has been clear for the last few weeks about how he and his staff plan to handle young starters Cade Cavalli and Josiah Gray carefully down the stretch to try to manage their innings (pitches) and get them through the final few weeks healthy to set them up for the 2023 campaign.
“Between him and [Gray], we’re definitely going to try to keep those guys limited a little bit in the next month,” Martinez said before Sunday’s game.
“But we definitely want to see him pitch up here, so he’ll pitch Thursday, and then we’ll have some days off coming up, so we’ll see how we work those two guys, so we might give them an extra couple of days in-between.”
Keeping both pitchers informed and aware of their plans, he said, will hopefully help them to understand the club has their best, and the organization’s best, interest at heart.
“For me, it’s getting them to understand the big picture, right?” Martinez said.
“I mean, these guys — we view them as being here for a very long time, and this for me is just part of the process, and that’s kind of how I talk to him. Josiah, he competes, we all know that, he loves being out there every five days. But I think he understands where he’s at, and for the most part we’re trying to keep these guys healthy for the future, and build them up.
“We always talk about — and I talked about it a lot to pitching coaches, with these young guys, it’s almost like a 20% increase in innings per year, and that’s kind of where we’re at, so when we look at Josiah, and the most he’s pitched I think is 130, so to increase him to 20% is probably about 160 innings, so that’s kind of what we’re basing this on, and what we’re looking at.”