The Nationals have a different look to their batting order for tonight’s series opener against the Braves. For just the second time in his big league career and the first time with the Nats, CJ Abrams will hit second behind leadoff man Lane Thomas.
Abrams hasn’t hit higher than sixth in manager Davey Martinez’s lineup over his first 35 games with the Nationals. He hit leadoff and second for one game each in his time with the Padres earlier this season.
“He's been doing well,” Martinez said of moving his young shortstop to the top of the lineup. “We talked a lot about, he's really trying hard to control his chasing. He's doing a lot better job throughout his at-bats. So I thought we'll get him up there and see how he does.”
The 21-year-old has been performing a lot better at the plate since a sluggish start to his Nationals career. In 21 September games so far, Abrams is slashing .307/.316/.427 with a .743 OPS, 11 runs, five doubles, two triples, six RBIs and three stolen bases.
He ranks seventh in the National League (second among NL rookies) with a .324 batting average since Sept. 3. He also ranks fifth in the major leagues with a 6.9 strikeout rate (five strikeouts in 72 plate appearances) over the same stretch.
“We also talked a lot about what he needs to do to get on base and situational hitting and stuff,” Martinez said. “And as you can see, he's been trying to lay down some more bunts and just really trying to get on base. And he's done a good job. So I think for me, it's kind of rewarding him a little bit for his efforts to try to do the right thing.”
Abrams was immediately a defensive improvement at shortstop when he debuted with the Nats on Aug. 15. But he struggled offensively, hitting .160 (8-for-50) with only one double and one walk. He has worked hard to improve at the plate and earn this promotion up the lineup.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Martinez said. “I mean, like I said, we talked a lot about what we feel like he needs to do. He's worked diligently with (hitting coach Darnell Coles) and (Gary DiSarcina) in the cage and you can see it paying off in the games. He's really hitting the ball (well) and he's made good, solid contact. So I thought, we play at home today, why not give him an opportunity to go up there and, honestly, kind of give us a little bit more up at the top as far as speed and getting on base and doing the little things that he does really well?”
* Patrick Corbin threw a light bullpen session today at Nationals Park, the first time he’s thrown off a mound since being removed after 10 pitches Tuesday in Atlanta with back spasms. He previously had only been able to throw off flat ground while having his next start skipped in the rotation.
“He's actually doing better,” Martinez said. “He threw a light bullpen today. He's gonna throw another one on Wednesday, more like game-like, and then we'll see where he's at then. Hopefully, if he's good, then we might get him a pitch this weekend.”
Today’s light bullpen took place during Martinez’s pregame press conference, so the skipper didn’t immediately have a full report on how it went. But getting Corbin back on the mound was a good first step toward him possibly making one more start before the end of the season.
“It's gonna be very light,” Martinez said. “We just want to get him on the mound, see how he felt. But he's feeling better.”
* MacKenzie Gore will take the mound tonight for his fourth rehab start with Triple-A Rochester. Gore has allowed just one run and 10 hits with six strikeouts, three walks and a hit batter in 8 ⅓ innings over his first three rehab starts. He completed four innings on Wednesday and is scheduled to complete five tonight.
“Yes, five innings, we'll see how he does and then we'll see what he does from there,” Martinez said. “If he's good, and he feels good, in the next couple of days he'll throw a bullpen and they'll reassess where we're at. And maybe he'll come pitch for us over the weekend.”
In order for Gore to make himself an option to pitch this weekend (possibly one of the games in Saturday’s doubleheader), the Nationals want to see consistency and arm strength in this last outing with the Red Wings.
“A lot, still. Mechanics, fatigue, consistency,” Martinez said. “We want him to consistently go out there, consistently keep his pitches down. Get stronger as the game (goes) on. That's what he did last time. In his last outing, he got stronger each inning. We want to see that happen again today.”