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Washington Nationals news & notes: CJ Abrams putting together impressive run; Travis Blankenhorn back in majors...

Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ loss to the Marlins in last night’s game...

CJ Abrams Hits No. 15:

Since being moved to the leadoff spot on July 7,” the Nationals’ PR department wrote in the Game Notes for the second of four with Miami this week in the nation’s capital, “CJ Abrams is hitting .271/.321/.422 with six doubles, a triple, seven homers, 16 RBI[s], nine walks, six hit by pitch, 27 stolen bases, and 32 runs scored.”

It’s been an impressive run for the still-just-22-year-old shortstop, whose 27 stolen bases in the same stretch were, “... the most in Major League Baseball ahead of [the Braves’] Ronald Acuña, Jr. (21).”

“On the season,” they added, “[Abrams] ranks third in the National League with 38 stolen bases.”

Abrams had 14 home runs on the year going into Friday’s game, and he hit his 15th, on an 0-2 curve from Marlins’ starter Eury Pérez, sending it 409 ft. to right field in Nationals Park and tying things up at 1-1 after the Fish jumped out to an early lead.

It appears the move to the leadoff spot has worked out well for Abrams, which, of course, is what his manager was hoping for when he moved his shortstop up top.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

“For me it was all about giving him a sense of leadership and having him get on base for the other guys, the eight guys behind him” Davey Martinez told reporters, while the club was in New York on the last road trip.

“And he’s done that, he’s done it really well,” Martinez added. “We’re still teaching him how to work counts, how to get on base a little bit more, but with that being said, I want him to be aggressive in the strike zone and swing at balls that we feel like he can hit, and he’s done a lot better, he really has.

“His whole game has elevated a lot, but when we traded for him, this is the kind of kid we thought [we were getting], and it’s happening fairly quickly. He hasn’t played very much professional baseball. We’ve been teaching him on the run, and he’s very astute, he learns as he goes, but he wants to get better.”

The power Abrams has displayed this season has not surprised the club ... at all, actually.

Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies it was evident before they acquired him a year ago in the Juan Soto (and Josh Bell) deal with San Diego’s Padres.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

“We always saw the pop, the pop was evident when we scouted him before the trade and that type of thing,” Rizzo said. “But what I think the difference is now is what [Nats’ Hitting Coach] Darnell [Coles] and Davey have really done well with him is to teach him what is his happy zone, and what is his zone that he should stay away from swinging. They used to get him with four-seamers up and then breaking balls down, and I think you can see a little bit of an adjustment there over the season where he’s now kind of laying off the pitches that he can’t handle as well and kind of looking for pitches in certain counts that he can drive.”

“No, we’re not surprised by the power,” Martinez said.

The sixth-year manager said the increased success on the basepaths for Abrams this year is the result of a lot of hard work, and the influence of First Base Coach Eric Young, Jr.

“He’s engaged. He’s totally engaged in the game and what he needs to do,” Martinez said.

“He’s been getting on base, and as I always talk to him, a walk or a single possibly turns into a double with him.”

“He’s understanding how to play the game, he’s understanding when he can steal a base,” Martinez continued, “... how he can steal a base. He picks pitches, he works with EY on different things on what to look for with pitchers, but he’s done a great job of when gets over there being aggressive.”

Abrams has been aggressive at the plate too. He jumped all over a couple changeups in the series in Yankee Stadium, taking reliever Tommy Kahnle deep twice, for his 13th and 14th of the season, and the 3rd and 5th home runs Kahnle’s allowed on his changeup in 35 games and 32 IP so far in 2023 (as of early Friday night).

“I sit fastball always, and just react with the hands, trust your hands,” Abrams said when he was asked about crushing a changeup for the first of the two home runs in New York.

He’s not surprised by the home runs totals this season either.

“I know I had’em, but I didn’t know when they’d show up,” Abrams joked.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that some first-pitch changeups he’s hitting out of the park in big situations because he’s a studier,” Rizzo told the Junkies.

“He’s a video guy, and he’s a guy that takes instruction well from Darnell Coles and Davey Martinez. He’s got a bright future at 22.”

Doing what he’s doing at this level at such a young age has impressed the GM in D.C.

“I said it at the draft, there’s about 1,000 players that were older than him in this year’s draft,” Rizzo said, “and this guy has already got a year under his belt in the big leagues.

“So, bright future, great kid, energy guy, speed guy, athletic, tools, and just starting to put his mark on what his career could look like.”

Abrams said he’s not alone in that regard, as just one of a number of young players on the Nationals’ roster right now busy establishing themselves in the majors.

“We got a lot in store,” Abrams said. “A young team, we’re coming together ... and we got Davey [who signed an extension recently] for another two years, so we’re going to make things happen.”

Abrams was expected to be an important piece on the next competitive team in D.C. when they acquired him and the expectations haven’t changed.

“We always identified him as a guy that was a premium position, premium player, kind of tools-y player,” Rizzo said late last month. “We had no doubts that he was going to put his tools together and even early in the season, this is a guy who’s made 17 errors this year, as a rookie playing shortstop in the big leagues, I was expecting 25 to 30 [errors] because that’s what these young rookie shortstops do at the big leagues early in their career. So he’s exceeded my expectations about being a consistent, everyday defender at shortstop.”


Washington added reliever Amos Willingham and outfielder Travis Blankenhorn to the mix in the majors once the roster expanded to 28 on Friday (September 1st).

Willingham, 25, was back up for the third time this year, after he put up, “... a 2.89 ERA (3 ER/9.1 IP) in six games since returning to Rochester on August 11.”

Blankenhorn, 27, signed as a free agent over the winter after the 2015 3rd round draft pick for Minnesota debuted in the majors in 2020 and played in a combined 26 games for the Twins and the NY Mets between ‘20 and ‘22.

This season in Washington’s system, Blankenhorn, “led the organization in OPS (.877) and slugging percentage (.517) in 108 games with Triple-A Rochester,” as the Nats noted once they called him up:

“He ranked among Nationals’ Minor Leaguers in home runs (2nd, 23), RBI[s] (2nd, 75), extra-base hits (2nd, 52), doubles (2nd, 27), runs (2nd, 67), total bases (T2nd, 203), on-base percentage (4th, .360), hits (4th, 103), walks (7th, 51) and batting average (8th, .262).”

Blankenhorn got the call to return to the majors in the midst of a hot streak, putting up a, “... .293/.376/.671 line, five doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 18 RBI[s], nine walks, and 18 runs scored in his last 21 games before the promotion.”

“Look, he put up some unbelievable numbers at Rochester for us,” Davey Martinez said after the club made Blankenhorn’s promotion official. “We really felt like he deserved a chance to come up here and play.

“I wanted to put him in there right away, keep him going,” Martinez explained after penciling Blankenhorn in as his No. 5 hitter in last night’s game.

“And he’s hit in the middle of the order down there as well, so we’ll continue to put him up there.”

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Martinez said he and his coaches (and the Nationals’ brass) will use the last weeks of the ‘23 campaign to evaluate the players who come up and get an opportunity.

“I kind of want to see everybody,” he said. “We’re in a position right now where we’d love to win games, but we also want to build for the future. Watching some of these young guys play … you see how their future lies with us. They’re all going to get an opportunity to play.”

Blankenhorn walked in his first plate appearance for the Nationals last night, falling behind 0-2 to Miami Marlins’ starter Eury Pérez, then taking four straight out of the zone to get on with two out before he was left on.

The second time up he hit a 97.3 MPH, 1-1 fastball from Pérez 423 ft. to center for his first HR in a Nationals uniform as the second home run of the third inning, tying things up at 3-3 in what ended up an 8-5 loss in extras.