Cruz and Escobar return to lineup, Adon faces Marlins

MIAMI – After a rough start to the week in the form of an 8-2 loss to the Marlins on Monday, the Nationals were greeted to some good news before the second game of this three-game set at loanDepot Park.

Nelson Cruz returns to the starting lineup after being a pregame scratch with an illness before last night’s game. He left the Nationals clubhouse yesterday while wearing a mask – sent away from the rest of the team to keep anyone else from getting sick – but returned this afternoon without a face covering.

“He was good. He just said he wasn't feeling well yesterday, so precautionary,” said manager Davey Martinez during his pregame session with the media. “You know, I don't want anybody else getting sick. He woke up today, said he felt fine. I watched him do his warmups and he hit in the cage and looked good. So he's back in there.”

Cruz is back in his usual designated hitter role and batting cleanup behind Cesár Hernández, Juan Soto and Josh Bell. Yadiel Hernandez, who replaced Cruz as the DH last night while Lane Thomas took over in left field, is back in left and hitting fifth.

The 41-year-old gets another chance to continue his much-improved May after a rough start to the season in April: He’s slashing .275/.333/.450 with a .783 OPS, two homers and nine RBIs over his first 11 games this month. Cruz can also try to take advantage of the controlled elements inside the roofed loanDepot Park, a stadium where he’s only made two plate appearances during his career spent mostly in the American League.

Cruz was also removed from the lineup before an April 12 game in Atlanta with groin tightness. But like this week’s illness, that only caused him to miss one game.

More good news on the injury front is Alcides Escobar’s return to the starting lineup. Escobar was a late scratch from the starting lineup before last week’s series opener against the Mets with an infection under the nail of his left index finger.

After having fluid removed from the finger on Wednesday, Escobar was able to play Friday and Sunday against the Astros. Although he isn’t considered 100 percent yet, Martinez is hopefully the shortstop is close.

“Yeah, he's feeling better,” Martinez said. “I mean we just got to keep an eye on his finger, man. It was pretty infected, but he said he felt a lot better. So he's gonna go out there and play today.”

The veteran infielder is looking to continue his improved production at the plate. After batting only .127 over his first 17 games, Escobar has slashed .375/.412/.469 with a .881 OPS over his last nine outings, going 12-for-32 with three runs scored, a double, a triple, four RBIs, a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

Dee Strange-Gordon had been playing in Escobar’s place at shortstop and now moves back to a super utility role on Martinez’s bench.

On the mound tonight, Joan Adon makes his first start against the Marlins, perhaps a good change of scenery after having trouble with teams he’s seen twice already this season.

The key for the young right-hander to have success: Throw strikes.

“The biggest thing with him is attacking the strike zone, getting ahead early,” said Martinez. “But he really has to pound the strike zone and throw strikes. That's the biggest key for him.”

Adon only threw 44 of his 84 pitches for strikes in his last start, in which he gave up three runs and five walks in 3 ⅔ innings against the Mets. After some adjustments in a bullpen session with hitting coach Jim Hickey, the Nats are hoping for different results against the Fish.

​”​Yeah, Hickey and him went and had a bullpen session,” said Martinez. “We tried to slow him down a little bit. And Hickey said he threw the ball a lot better in the bullpen. So we're hoping that he goes out there and takes what he did in the bullpen and utilizes it today.”

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Game 38 lineups: Nats at Marlins

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