NEW YORK — Asdrúbal Cabrera stood by his locker speaking in a low voice. The newest Washington National had, not long before, delivered the two most important batted balls in Sunday’s 7-4, sweep-sidestepping victory over the New York Mets. The veteran admitted it hurt when the Mets expressed interest yet didn’t re-sign him last offseason, but he waved off the thought of any extra motivation in facing a former team.
“I'm just going out there to do my job,” Cabrera said. “I'm just here to help the team to win.”
The infielder struggled earlier this season, hitting .235 in 93 games, and the Texas Rangers designated him for assignment in early August. The Nationals, whom Cabrera played for in 2014, called. The timing for the team couldn’t have been better, and they signed him last week. The Nationals effectively upgraded their backup utility infielder spot from Adrián Sanchez, a light-hitting career minor leaguer with no home runs, to Cabrera, a .267 career hitter with pop (12 homers this year).
Now, the Nationals have supplemental power with Howie Kendrick on the injured list with a hamstring strain. The switch-hitter also allows Manager Dave Martinez to play matchups, which he did against the Mets’ three elite right-handed starters, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. Martinez also wanted to give starting second baseman Brian Dozier time off while his wife, Renee, is expecting the couple’s child soon. The rest for an eight-year veteran like Dozier also doesn’t hurt.
Still, Martinez said, don’t get it twisted: There’s no timeshare developing.
“Dozier’s been great all year, he's our second baseman,” the manager said. “I just know that, right now, I wanted to give him a couple days off. We had some tough righties and I'm trying to get [Cabrera] in the lineup a couple times and get him going.”
When the Rangers cut Cabrera, the Mets were reportedly the first team to call. The 33-year-old instead opted to sign with one of the Mets’ most formidable obstacles to making the playoffs. In his first series at Citi Field since, Cabrera nearly single-handedly prevented the sweep on Sunday.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the first, Cabrera rapped a sharp groundball to first base. New York’s Pete Alonso made a diving stop and came up firing to deGrom, the starter running over to cover the base. The throw sailed away and, after another poor throw, Cabrera ended up on third with the Little League triple. It was the exact style of baseball Martinez had praised the Mets for earlier in the series: Put the ball in play and see what happens.
In the seventh, in a 3-3 deadlock, Cabrera again came to the plate with the bases loaded. He batted right-handed against Mets left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. Cabrera smacked the first pitch, a high, middle-in fastball at 96 mph, down the right field line. It barely stayed fair but bounced to the wall as the Nationals circled the bases for a lead they’d never relinquish. It was the perfect illustration of what Cabrera could provide.
“I tried to hit the ball to the other side of the field,” he said, bemused. “I got jammed a little bit, but it was right to the line, so that was really good.”
On the double, teammate and young outfielder Juan Soto rolled his ankle rounding third. He left the game at the time, but the Nationals later announced X-rays returned negative and would treat the injury as day-to-day. Cabrera is new to this season’s pennant chase, but he’s been in them before and understands the importance of every player and every game.
“We don't need that right now, to lose a guy like him,” he said.
Same goes for Cabrera. He won’t be asked to give the Nationals everyday at-bats or the pop Kendrick provided, but if he can be a plug-and-play option, and a versatile bat off the bench, he’ll be one of the pieces the Nationals have needed all season. Cabrera, like many players, believes the key to doing so is by only thinking about the present day.
“Every game’s really important for us,” Cabrera said. “[To] go back home with a win is really good for the team.”
Read more on the Nationals: