Abrams gets another day off, Smith stays in lineup

CJ Abrams is starting to get more regular days off as Nationals manager Davey Martinez tries to give his young shortstop more opportunities to rest his body and mind in his first full big league season.

Abrams, who started 31 of the Nats’ first 32 games this season, is not in the lineup for today’s series finale against the Phillies. It’s the fifth time he hasn’t started in the team’s last 27 games. It’s also the second straight Sunday he’s had off.

“Just kind of let him relax a little bit,” Martinez said.

It’s been an eventful stretch for Abrams, who played a key role in recent road wins in Kansas City and Los Angeles but also committed three errors in his last five games, a couple of them particularly costly ones.

With the team off Monday, this gives Abrams a chance for an extended rest before he returns to the lineup Tuesday night against the Diamondbacks.

“I’m trying to get back-to-back days for some of these guys, so they actually get two days off,” Martinez said. “Look, he’s been playing really well. I scheduled this day off for him for a bit, just to get him off his feet.

With Abrams sitting, Ildemaro Vargas gets another start at shortstop. The veteran utilityman is in the lineup for only the 12th time this season, six of those in Abrams’ place at shortstop, but he has remained productive at the plate. Vargas enters the day batting .304 (14-for-46) with four extra-base hits and a .776 OPS.

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

Martinez has talked about trying to find more days off for Dominic Smith, but two factors have prevented that from happening in recent weeks. Smith’s superior defense at first base has made him a welcome presence for Abrams and fellow infielders Luis García and Jeimer Candelario. And despite his overall offensive struggles (.653 OPS), Smith has actually been way more productive against left-handed pitchers; he’s batting .333, as opposed to only .227 vs. righties.

Smith has now started 56 of the Nationals' 59 games this season, including the team's last 35 games.

“It’s tough, because he means a lot to us defensively over there,” Martinez said. “You try to pick a day for him, but you look at our starting 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.”

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