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Washington Nationals news & notes: Off days; CJ Abrams learning on the job; Dominic Smith in the lineup + more...

Notes & quotes after yesterday’s off day for the Nationals...

Going into Sunday’s series finale with the Phillies, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about his first baseman, Dom Smith, his success at the plate overall, and specifically when facing lefties, and the decision to send the 27-year-old infielder out for the 35th game in a row (going back to April 29th ... when he played both ends of a doubleheader).

It’s hard, the manager acknowledged, to sit Smith, especially when the left-hand swinging slugger is hitting .333 against lefties this season, the third-highest average for any NL lefty (with at least 50 plate appearances) against left-handed pitchers.

“Yeah,” he said, “and it’s tough because he means a lot to us defensively over there [at first base], and you try to pick a day for him, but you look at our starting pitchers, and our pitchers, we get a lot of ground balls. It’s hard to take him out, because we’re trying to play defense, and limit any mistakes out on the field, and he’s been outstanding at first base.”

MLB: MAY 15 Mets at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the 35 straight games he’s played, Smith, who went 2 for 4 in the 11-3 loss on Sunday, is 37 for 126 (.294/.371/.349) with four doubles, a home run, 13 walks, and 20 Ks in 143 PAs in that stretch.

Martinez did give shortstop CJ Abrams the day off in the third of three with the Phillies over the weekend, giving the 22-year-old two days with the off-day on Monday.

“Just his day off,” Martinez said before the game.

“I figure give him a day off today and he gets two days. Like I’ve said, these days off could only be a half a day, but kind of get him to relax a little bit.”

“He’s been playing really well, so I’ve scheduled this day off for him for a bit again, just get him off his feet.”

There have been ups and downs along the way, as expected with a young shortstop starting [almost] every day in the majors and learning on the job, but his manager said he’s liked the way that Abrams has reacted and bounced back.

“He’s actually bounced back really well from some of the mistakes he’s made,” Martinez said.

“We talked a lot about in LA, he made a couple of errors over there. We talked to him about different fields, and how to play the different fields. In LA, that field is really, really fast.

“Sometimes on fields that fast, you don’t have to come and charge everything like he was trying to do because of here. So we talked a lot about that, and how it’s just a learning process with him, about going to different fields, playing different games, footwork, how to position himself to throw the balls.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“Like the other day, where he threw the ball away, it’s just about footwork, about knowing who’s running, how much time you have to throw, stuff of that nature, but he’s handled everything really well. He loves the information. He loves when [coaches] Gary [DiSarcina] or Ricky [Gutierrez] or [Tim Bogar] goes up to him and talks to him about different scenarios, and he corrects them, he does a really good job of correcting them, so he’s been really good.”

Doing what he’s done, at a young age, and playing short, the captain of the infield, Abrams has handled it all well, with help from his teammates.

“He’s definitely in the pivotal position for our ballclub,” Martinez said, “and being so young, I think he’s handled it well. He’s communicating really well with everybody else.”

“One big thing that I know,” he added, “having Jeimer [Candelario] over there at third base with him helps him a lot, and having Dom [Smith] at first base really helps him a lot too.

“So it’s been a great combination with our infielders playing together, getting to understand each other, and really communicating with one another.”

And it’s not only the everyday players guiding Abrams early in his big league career. He has a backup shortstop doing the selfless work of teaching the next generation. What impact is Ildemaro Vargas having on Abrams?

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

“He’s kept him loose, a lot,” Martinez said, “... and he makes him forget about mistakes and gets him to that next play. So it’s good to have a guy that understands the game and has played it really well, and has played his position really well. The biggest thing is that he tries to keep CJ loose, not worry about the mistakes, focus on the positives and move on.”

And while he’s helping Abrams, Vargas has a .320/.333/.540 in limited action (19 G, 52 PAs).

How does he stay sharp for whenever he’s needed?

“Yeah, it’s all about preparation with him, his routine,” his manager said. “Every day he’s the first guy in the cage, works on both sides of his swing, he’s the first one to get ready to take infield. He’s been great. But he knows his playing time is kind of limited, but he’s always ready, no matter what, he’s ready to play any position, whenever I need him, he’s good to go.”