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Home Sports CJ Abrams’s late blast lets the Nats keep streaking in New York

CJ Abrams’s late blast lets the Nats keep streaking in New York


NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals came into this season hoping their best baseball was ahead, then believed the growing pains their young players experienced early on would pave the way to success sooner than later.

No player encapsulates what this season was supposed to be about better than CJ Abrams, the Nationals’ 22-year-old shortstop who has excelled in the second half. His latest feat: an eighth-inning solo home run that caromed off the foul pole in right field and lifted Washington to a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

The Nationals (58-68) have won five of six and are 13-6 in August. In a season that is now completely off the rails, the Yankees (60-65) have lost nine in a row.

New York managed just two hits off starter Josiah Gray, Mason Thompson, Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan. Gray, a native of New Rochelle, N.Y., lasted six innings. The other three turned in a scoreless frame apiece, with Finnegan notching his 22nd save.

Abrams, who has flourished as the Nationals’ leadoff hitter, has 13 home runs to go with 33 stolen bases and stellar defense at shortstop. His success and that of others — including Gray, who also shined Tuesday — was a factor in the Nationals’ decision to give Manager Dave Martinez a two-year contract extension that features a third-year club option. After news of the deal broke Monday, the team announced the agreement ahead of Tuesday’s game.

“We got a lot in store,” Abrams said after the win. “A young team coming together, and we got Davey for another two years, right? So we’re going to make things happen.”

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Before reporters could offer questions at his daily news conference ahead of the game, Martinez wanted to make a statement of his own. That’s atypical, but as he joked, “It was a good off day.”

“I’m elated to be back,” said Martinez, who thanked the Lerner family and the front office, including General Manager Mike Rizzo. “It’s been a blessing for me and my family. … It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed every bit of being here.”

Martinez and Rizzo entered this season in the final years of their contracts. While both repeatedly expressed a desire to see the team’s rebuild through, it remained to be seen whether they would be given the chance. Rizzo remains without a contract beyond this year — discussions are ongoing, a person familiar with the talks said Monday — but Martinez now knows he’ll remain at the helm.

“We all see the impact he’s had with us young guys,” Gray said. “He doesn’t get down on us after a bad outing. He doesn’t critique us to the point where we second-guess ourselves. … He’s the guy for the job, and [I’m] really looking forward to him being the guy at the helm that continues to make us better and continues to help us develop. When we’re really, really good, hopefully he’s the guy that’s leading the charge and we really get to celebrate his successes, because he’s been awesome.”

This remains a rebuilding season, but the Nationals’ record since the all-star break — 22-14 after this win — certainly helped Martinez’s case. So did the progression of young players such as Abrams, Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz. Now, Martinez and his staff are tasked with developing the players on the roster while preparing for the next wave, including Dylan Crews, James Wood and Brady House.

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“It always feels good when you’re working really hard to get better, but to continue to give me the opportunity to do that, especially with a young group, means a lot to me,” Martinez said. “We are heading in the right direction. These guys are playing really well, and it’s more about them than anything else. I love the progression. I love the process and what we’re going through. To watch them go out there every day and do what they’re doing right now, it’s been a lot of fun. So we’re going to continue to get better.”

Gray’s development was important as the season opened. He earned his first all-star nod this season but entered Tuesday with an 11.12 ERA in three August starts. But then he allowed just one hit — a third-inning home run by Ben Rortvedt that tied the score after Carter Kieboom slugged a solo shot during the inning’s opening half in his first major league at-bat since 2021.

Gray walked five and hit a batter, which kept him pitching out of the stretch most of the night. He threw 101 pitches, just 50 of them for strikes. Yet as he has many times this season, Gray kept his team in the game despite not being at his best. His ERA dropped to 3.85.

The Nationals managed just seven hits and didn’t help themselves on the base paths, committing three mistakes while trying to stretch singles into doubles. Ruiz was thrown out at second base to open the fourth. Ildemaro Vargas did the same to end the inning. In the fifth, Alex Call hit a sinking liner to Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader, who dived but trapped the ball. Call tried to advance to second but was thrown out. Thanks to Abrams, Gray and the bullpen, none of that mattered.

Before Tuesday’s game, Abrams walked by lefty MacKenzie Gore in the clubhouse. Gore asked if he was going to hit a home run in his first at-bat, given the short porch in right field, and Abrams chuckled. His home run didn’t come in his first at-bat — it came in his final one, when his team needed it most.

POST AUTHOR: Andrew Golden

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