With Cruz close to returning, Nats face decision at designated hitter

ATLANTA - Lined with wooden lockers and topped by fluorescent bulbs, the visitor’s clubhouse at Truist Park isn’t the most well-lit room. It’s even darker from behind Nelson Cruz’s sunglasses.

The 42-year-old has donned the shades as he deals with a lefty eye infection that has kept him out of action since Sept. 13. But the specs could be coming off soon.

“He’s better,” said manager Davey Martinez. “The drops are working. It’s very slow but he said he feels better today.”

“It’s good news, so hopefully we can get him back here in a few days.”

Cruz took batting practice with the team before Monday’s series opener, another step towards a return that appears imminent.

That leaves Martinez with a quandary at designated hitter: with both Luke Voit and Joey Meneses deserving of playing time, where does Cruz fit?

A week ago, you could say DH, with Voit at first base and Meneses in the outfield. But Meneses’ emergence at first has changed the equation, as the 30-year-old rookie has proven to be a better option defensively than Voit. And with Call, Robles, Thomas manning the outfield, Meneses seems likely to stay at first.

Cruz’s struggles at the plate are another factor. His .651 OPS is the lowest mark he’s amassed in a season since 2006, and he hasn’t homered since Aug. 21, a drought that extends across 63 plate appearances.

Voit, on the other hand, entered Monday’s game in Atlanta with an .809 OPS in 37 games since being traded to Washington. And Meneses, who was sporting a .309 batting average, continues to be the team’s most valuable offensive player.

As Martinez has said before, he's always keeping an eye on the future.

"We're looking for players," said Martinez after Monday's loss. "Come spring training, these guys are making a good case for themselves."

A mutual option and a $3 million buyout are the only things between Cruz and free agency this winter. Voit, meanwhile, is under team control through the 2024 season. One player is likely to be with the team next spring, the other is not. 

Martinez won’t have many opportunities to show his preference, with just fifteen games remaining in the season. But the skipper will have to make a call one way or the other before long.

Game 148 lineups: Nationals at Braves
Nats do little with nine hits, fall to Braves 5-2 ...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/