Abrams atones for hustle mistake with first career walk-off hit

It was a routine chopper back to the pitcher, the kind of play that’s made 99.5 percent of the time. Knowing that, CJ Abrams slowed down as he approached first base, assuming he would easily be thrown out.

Except when A.J. Minter’s throw sailed high, and Braves first baseman Matt Olson had to dive back to tag the base with his glove, Abrams lack of hustle cost him and the Nationals. Had he run hard all the way through the bag, he would’ve been safe at a critical moment in the eighth inning of what was a tie game. Instead, he had to make the walk of shame back to the dugout, where a perturbed Davey Martinez was waiting.

“That can’t happen,” Abrams said afterward. “I talked to Davey about it. Won’t happen again, for sure.”

It was a potentially low moment for the rookie shortstop, but two innings later he made sure it wouldn’t be his most memorable play from Wednesday night’s game. With a two-out RBI single to right in the bottom of the 10th, Abrams delivered the first walk-off hit of his career, sending the Nationals to a 3-2 victory and leaving the 21-year-old to be mobbed by teammates.

“It was good for him, especially after the baserunning thing,” Martinez said. “He comes back, he puts it aside and he gets after that at-bat and gets a big base hit for us. It’s good to see that. He stayed in the game, stayed poised.”

Abrams’ first few months in D.C. haven’t entirely been smooth. He struggled at first, at the plate and in the field. He’s improved dramatically in both areas but still has made the occasional physical or mental mistake that requires an on-the-spot lesson from Martinez and his coaching staff.

But in the bigger picture, Abrams has more consistently been showing the best of his abilities in recent weeks. He’s batting .329 over his last 22 games. He’s stolen four bases. And he’s made a host of eye-opening plays at shortstop, further solidifying his status as the organization’s long-term future at that critical position.

Wednesday night’s three-hit showing in the Nationals’ victory was among Abrams’ best all-around performances yet. And it was punctuated by his walk-off single.

Stepping to the plate with two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the 10th, he fell behind in the count, 1-2, to Braves right-hander Jackson Stephens. Stephens tried to get him with a changeup down and in, below his knees, but Abrams showed off his bat-to-ball skills and drilled a sharp grounder through the right side of the infield for the game-winner.

“What I loved is that he was very poised,” Martinez said. “He took his swings and then, all of a sudden, a guy makes a good pitch. And he stayed down, stayed with it, was able to get good wood on it and put it in the hole.”

Abrams, an Atlanta area native who grew up watching the Braves, was especially thrilled to deliver like that against his hometown team, which wound up falling a game behind the Mets in the down-to-the-wire National League East race.

He was a bit less thrilled about being pummeled by teammates and doused with Gatorade and water on a chilly, late-September night.

“It was freezing,” Abrams said. “It was really cold, and I got like three, four of them. But it was fun.”

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