Abrams shakes off strange out, continues strong September

MIAMI – As he walked from the plate to the home dugout in the top of the second inning Sunday afternoon at loanDepot Park, CJ Abrams had no idea who was approaching him from behind. As far as he knew, he had just scored on Victor Robles’ safety squeeze, extending the Nationals’ lead to 3-0.

And then just as he was about to go down the steps and into the dugout, Marlins catcher Nick Fortes suddenly tagged him from behind. Abrams turned around to look, saw umpire Bill Miller signal out and realized what had just happened.

“They said I didn’t touch the plate,” he said. “But on the replay, you could see it kind of … my cleat kind of bounced up off the plate. But it is what it is. Kept playing, won the game. It’s cool.” 

That last sentence perfectly summed things up. Abrams could’ve let the bizarre (and possibly incorrect) play rattle him. Instead, he shrugged it off, kept playing and wound up playing an important role in the Nationals’ 6-1 victory over Miami.

“He’s really done a great job with that,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He doesn’t sulk over it. He comes back, he watches video and then he shrugs it off, knowing that there’s going to be some more plays that he’s got to make. I love that about him.”

More and more, Abrams is making multiple plays per game to help the Nats win. In this case, he did so at the plate, on the bases and in the field, all in one game.

At the plate, Abrams went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI, continuing his recent offensive surge following a sluggish start to his Nationals career. In his first 16 games following his promotion from Triple-A Rochester, he hit a meager .148 with a .360 OPS. In 19 games since, he’s batting a robust .324 with a .784 OPS.

“Living in the moment, I’m big on that,” he said. “Don’t get too high or too low. Keep going.”

The same applies in the field. Though he continues to make the occasional mistake at shortstop, including an error Sunday afternoon, he has more than made up for it with several above-average defensive plays, including a couple of double plays he turned with second baseman Luis Garcia in this win.

And on the bases, Abrams continues to be a threat. In the fourth inning of Sunday’s game, he found himself on third base when Victor Robles took off from first. Fortes made a strong throw to second, but neither of the Marlins’ middle infielders moved to cover the base. The ball ricocheted off an unsuspecting Robles, and Abrams (who was already anticipating an opportunity to score) scampered home with the run, ultimately credited with a double steal.

“He’s very aware of what’s going on,” Martinez said. “We had a play on. He saw the ball leave the hand, and he took off.”

Put it all together, and Abrams has spent the last three weeks looking very much like the dynamic, multi-tooled shortstop the Nationals felt they were getting all along in their blockbuster trade with the Padres.

It took a little while for him to start showing off those skills – and he’s far from a finished product – but there’s no doubt he’s beginning to live up to the potential.

“A little bit of comfort, a little bit of confidence … he’s playing well,” Martinez said. “We’re allowing him to play the game. With that being said, we have teaching moments that we’re trying to teach him how to do things the right way, and he’s been really good. He really has been. He’s been very intuitive on everything that we’ve asked him to do.”

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