Cory Abbott hasn’t been able to stick during his major league career. He has been a member of three organizations since the beginning of this year’s spring training, has bounced between Class AAA and the majors often over the past two years, and has been developed as a starter while making more appearances as a reliever during his brief time in MLB.
His transaction log from this season with the Washington Nationals is lengthy: claimed off waivers May 4 from the San Francisco Giants, recalled to the Nationals on June 17, optioned on June 20, recalled on July 13, optioned on July 14, recalled on July 17, optioned on July 18, recalled on July 30.
“It’s just kind of like the new normal,” Abbott said of his role. “Last year, [I was] kind of learning the ropes and how to thrive in that chaos.”
Despite an inability to establish himself in the majors over the past two years, Abbott, 26, finds himself with an opportunity to pitch every fifth day in a Nationals rotation decimated by injuries.
Abbott was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the 2017 draft. He worked his way up through their minor league system to make his major league debut June 5, 2021.
Three days later, he was optioned back to Iowa, Chicago’s Class AAA affiliate. He was called up and sent back down three more times each by the end of July. He spent the final two months of the season in Class AAA.
During that hectic stretch, Abbott struggled to establish a routine before outings. He remembers a game against the New York Mets last year in which he overworked himself, throwing 30 warmup pitches before entering in relief to face the Mets. He had started for Iowa three days before.
“Disaster,” Abbott said of last season. “I just couldn’t figure out the recovery process as much … and how to manage the workload. I think now, this year, I’ve been able to just know when to take the days, know when to step off the gas pedal a little bit more and not try to really push in and do something, hurt something, tweak something.”
This year, Abbott was designated for assignment by the Cubs on April 16, then traded to the Giants five days later. Two weeks later, the Nationals claimed him after San Francisco designated him for assignment.
Abbott has felt much more comfortable with the constant change this season. When he gets called up now, his initial emotion is excitement before he remembers he has to pack quickly and make the nearly six-hour drive from Rochester, N.Y., to Washington. He did joke about two minor qualms with the trek: Virginia drivers going too slow in the left lane and the confusing exits leaving D.C. that left him lost on the way back to Rochester several times.
Still, Abbott said the ride is a “beautiful drive" because of the trees and other nature that he doesn’t get to see near his home in Arizona.
“When I got optioned last time, I stopped in Williamsport (Pa.) and saw the Little League World Series. The museum was closed, but I hope,” Abbott paused, before correcting himself. “Well, I don’t hope. But eventually, if that does happen again, I’d go and see the museum and kind of just enjoy the drive back.”
Abbott prefers starting because of the strategy needed to attack a lineup, though he has gained a new appreciation for relievers. He has pitched out of the bullpen and started for Rochester, allowing him to test what stretches and warmups work best for each situation.
Now, he’ll have the opportunity to earn his spot in the Nationals’ rotation because of need, joining a handful of unproven players who were in Rochester for long stretches of the season but now find themselves in the majors.
Infielder Ildemaro Vargas, first baseman Joey Meneses and outfielder Josh Palacios have played since the Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade Aug. 2. Abbott has gotten his opportunity because of the pitchers ahead of him who have gone down this season: Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, Evan Lee and Jackson Tetreault were either in the rotation or expected to be before the season but are sidelined with injuries. Right-hander Erick Fedde, who has started 19 games for Washington this season, is on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
Abbott has seen mixed results in his two starts. He pitched five scoreless innings and went toe-to-toe with two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom on Aug. 2 as each made his first start of the season. Then he allowed seven runs and four homers in 3⅔ innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.
For the past two years, Abbott’s “normal” has been being a pitcher who has had to adapt on the fly. But he hopes one day soon that will change.
“Oh, yeah, I hope not to [do both],” Abbott said. “But it’s not something I can think about. … I’m taking it a day at a time. There’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing I can really say. I mean, what am I going to do? Pout and say no?
“I want to be up here, in any role, as long as I’m up here. I want to face the best hitters — and you know they’re up here, not down there.”