Cabrera has become indispensable to Nats in short order

PITTSBURGH - When Asdrúbal Cabrera became available earlier this month, the Nationals figured there was no downside to signing the veteran infielder.

The Rangers, who released Cabrera on Aug. 3, were responsible for the vast majority of his $3.5 million salary. Any subsequent team that signed the 33-year-old would be responsible only for a prorated portion of the major league minimum salary. In this case, that meant Cabrera could be had for the final two months of the season for roughly $180,000.

The Nationals, who at the time were without veteran infielders Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick, jumped at the opportunity to sign Cabrera.

cabrera-smile-gray-running-sidebar.jpg“We knew, just watching Asdrúbal over the years ... I mean, he was not having a terrible year,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He was still hitting his home runs, driving in runs. When he became available, it was a conversation with (general manager Mike Rizzo) that he’d be a good piece to have. He fits.”

Yes, he does. Two weeks later, Cabrera has quickly become an integral part of the Nationals roster. His three-run homer in Wednesday night’s 11-1 blowout of the Pirates only added to his impressive numbers in such a short period of time.

Cabrera has now played 11 games for the Nats. He’s batting .324 with seven extra-base hits, 13 RBIs, a .422 on-base percentage and 1.044 OPS. He’s practically earned his $180,000 already.

“I’m feeling pretty good at the plate,” he said. “I’ve been working with Kevin Long. He knows me from the Mets, was my hitting coach over there. I’ve been working with him every day.”

Familiarity with Long, the Mets’ hitting coach from 2015-17, helped make Cabrera’s midseason transition to the Nationals easier.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Cabrera said. “He knows me. I played for him two years, and he knows when my swing is good or when it’s not.”

It’s also helped to have a welcoming clubhouse that includes several familiar faces from Cabrera’s previous stint with the Nationals late in the 2014 season, plus others he has gotten to know in recent years playing for division rivals.

“The first day when I got here, it was like I was with this team from spring training,” he said. “They gave me a warm welcome, and I appreciate that from everybody in here. I feel part of the family.”

What, though, does the rest of this season hold for Cabrera? He’s been a much-needed addition while others have been out. But Kendrick is already back from the injured list. Zimmerman is getting close to returning himself. And Brian Dozier is set to return from paternity leave today.

Is there room for Cabrera to continue making a difference for a Nationals club that had no idea how important he’d become in a matter of two weeks?

“We’ll figure out ways to play them and keep them fresh,” Martinez said of all his veteran position players. “We’re at the end of August, going into September. Like I’ve said before: Everybody’s going to get an opportunity. Everybody’s got to do their part for us to pull this off.”

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