Nats preaching patience with struggling Abrams

CJ Abrams has never struggled to hit. Not as a teenager, when he was named Georgia High School Player of the Year. Not as a first-time professional, when he hit .401 in 32 games with the Padres’ rookie ball team in Arizona. Not last season at Double-A, where he had a .363 on-base percentage in 42 games before suffering a leg injury. And not this season at Triple-A, where he posted an .840 OPS in 38 games.

Twelve games into his Nationals career, though, Abrams’ offensive struggles are hard to ignore. He’s just 6-for-44 so far, good for a .136 batting average. He has zero extra base hits. He has yet to draw a walk. He has yet to score a run. He has struck out 12 times.

Extremely small sample, yes. But if you’ve been watching and wondering where the highly touted prospect’s offensive game is, you’re not alone.

“At times, you can see he gets a little frustrated,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And I have to reiterate: ‘Hey, you’re doing fine.’ ”

As he’s done with countless other young players struggling to get going at the plate, Martinez makes sure to mention how he hit .139 in 53 games as a rookie with the Cubs in 1986. He went on to have a long and productive career, finishing with a .276/.341/.389 slash line and 1,599 hits across 16 major league seasons.

“I tell him all the time I’ve been through that: I hit .139 my first year in the big leagues,” Martinez said. “And it stunk, believe me. But you’re going to figure it out.”

Abrams won’t turn 22 until the season’s final week. Even beyond that, he remains remarkably inexperienced for an everyday big leaguer, having taken only 718 total plate appearances between the minors and majors since the Padres made him the No. 6 overall pick in the country in 2019.

Through his first two weeks in D.C., Abrams has shown the speed and defensive skills that made him such a coveted part of the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade. But he’s yet to show much of the offensive abilities that scouts, and other talent evaluators raved about while he was in the minors.

What stands out so far? Abrams swings a lot, probably too much. Through 12 games with the Nats, he has swung at 59 percent of all pitches he’s seen, far above the major league average of 47.7 percent. And he swings at pitches out of the zone, especially down and away (50 percent of them). Is it any wonder that’s where opposing pitchers tend to attack him?

“But when he does hit the ball, the ball comes off his bat fairly hot,” Martinez said. “It’s just a matter of consistency. The biggest thing for him is consistency: Knowing what balls you can hit hard, knowing what balls you need to lay off of. And hitting with two strikes.

“It’s a tough thing to do. But if he’s going to play every day, he needs to learn how to do it.”

Nationals hitting coach Darnell Coles works with Abrams daily, emphasizing the need to use his legs more to help him stay on time with the ball. Between work in the cage and extra work in the field he gets with new double play mate Luis Garcia, there’s a lot on his plate right now.

Abrams is 21 and being asked to be one of the centerpieces of the Nats’ rebuilding project. Club officials know it’s a tall task, but they’re confident he’s up to the challenge. And they’re doing everything they can to reassure him he’s not going anywhere, no matter what the numbers say.

“Just baby steps,” Martinez said. “And he gets that. He appreciates that he’s our guy, and we’re going to take care of him. But he’s young, and we’ve got to be patient.”

Game 129 lineups: Nats vs. Athletics
Monday morning Nats Q&A

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