Abrams works out, likely to return to lineup Sunday

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Though he’s out of the Nationals lineup for the fourth straight day with a tight back, CJ Abrams appears close to returning to game action, probably as soon as Sunday.

Abrams hasn’t played since Tuesday against the Mets, after which he reported tightness in his back. The 22-year-old shortstop suggested it wasn’t anything serious and that he’d be playing if this happened during the regular season.

This morning provided some confirmation of that: Abrams was a full participant in pregame drills with the rest of the starting infielders and fielded grounders, turned double plays and took batting practice with no apparent issues.

What would be the sign that Abrams was good to return to Grapefruit League games?

“Just the whole baseball activity, being on his feet,” manager Davey Martinez said this morning, before workouts. “He’s going to take swings, he’s going to hit, he’s going to do everything. And if everything goes well, hopefully he’ll play tomorrow.”

Abrams has played in nine official games so far this spring, going 7-for-26 with one double, two RBIs and four stolen bases. He has yet to draw a walk while striking out 10 times.

* Martinez has been tinkering with all kinds of different lineup combinations this spring, a byproduct of multiple factors.

Often, he simply wants to make sure certain guys get as many at-bats as possible before departing the game, so he’ll use somebody at the top of the lineup (like Keibert Ruiz) who isn’t likely to hit there during the season.

In other cases, Martinez does want to see some guys hit in specific spots in the lineup, or directly in front of or behind a specific teammate.

Time is running out, though, for the manager to settle on a batting order for Opening Day.

“I haven’t really put together anything on paper yet. That will come,” Martinez said. “I know we only have a certain number of days, and I want to start making lineups according to how we’re going to do things in the season. So we’ll see what happens the next couple days.”

It doesn’t help that the Nationals have been without a couple of key bats the last two weeks because of the World Baseball Classic: Joey Meneses and Jeimer Candelario. Candelario, whose Dominican Republic team was eliminated Thursday night, is back in camp now. Meneses, whose Mexico team advanced to the semifinals of the event, won’t be back until Monday at the earliest, delaying the opportunity for Martinez to field a potential real Opening Day lineup.

“It hurts when you don’t have your guys,” Martinez said. “We’ll have to wait til Joey gets back. But these other guys, we’ll put them in a situation where we know they’re going to hit.”

* Chad Kuhl will start Sunday against the Tigers, officially taking the rotation slot that had been held by Cade Cavalli. Kuhl remains the top candidate to open the season as the No. 5 starter after Cavalli tore his elbow ligament and will need Tommy John surgery. Wily Peralta, who started Thursday night, will pitch multiple innings in relief his next time out.

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