Nelson Cruz heating up with MLB trade deadline looming


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When Nelson Cruz signed with the Washington Nationals this spring, General Manager Mike Rizzo wanted a veteran with power to provide protection behind Juan Soto in the lineup. Still, Cruz was 41 and there were questions about how much he had left.

He hit .226 after he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline last year, though Cruz hinted at having trouble seeing at Tropicana Field. Doubts intensified when Cruz’s batting average dipped to .143 on May 3.

His lack of success mirrored the Nationals, who dropped to the bottom of the NL East quickly. But Manager Dave Martinez reiterated as Cruz was struggling that his slugger would find his rhythm once it turned warm and baseballs started to carry. By the end of May, he had raised his batting average to .237. This month, he’s hitting .340 (18-for-53) with three home runs and nine RBI, raising his season average to .261.

“You do hard work to see results and it’s nice to see results,” Cruz said. “At the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses. And unfortunately, we haven’t been able to stay in a winning streak for long periods of time.”

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Cruz signed with the intention of being a part of a contending team in Washington. But Washington (23-43) sits 19.5 games back of the NL East-leading New York Mets. The Nationals have the worst record in the National League and the third-lowest winning percentage in baseball (only the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics are worse).

Rizzo hinted on a radio interview with 106.7 the Fan last week that the Nationals would look to trade its players with expiring contracts. Cruz fits that definition.

“I try to not think about it,” Cruz said about the possibility of being traded. “I signed to be with this team and that’s my goal. But I also understand it’s part of the business. I have to be prepared for everything.”

If Cruz does get traded next month, it will be the second straight season he’s been dealt at the trade deadline. The Minnesota Twins, who were well out of the playoff picture last year, sent Cruz to a playoff contender in the Rays.

This year, the Twins are in first place in the AL Central. Joe Ryan, one of two pitching prospects in the trade, is Minnesota’s leader in wins and strikeouts and trails the Twins’ leader in innings pitched by ⅓ of an inning. The other pitcher, Drew Strotman, is in Class AAA.

The Nationals hope to get that level of production in return by trading Cruz: a return of young prospects that Washington could develop and build around.

Cruz said being traded last year was difficult for him because he had to work his way from the ground up in the middle of the season to adjust to his new coaches, teammates and a front office. But despite the changes, he said that once it’s time to step on the field, his mind shifts back to baseball.

He’s set to turn 42 on July 1, the third-oldest player in the majors behind Albert Pujols (42) and Rich Hill (42). Yet aside from his first month, he hasn’t shown any signs of a major drop-off.

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“This guy’s kept himself in unbelievable shape,” Martinez said. “That’s just him understanding his body and doing the work in between games to get himself ready to play everyday … I look at home and I think to myself ‘Man, this guy could play for another two or three years easy.’

Cruz credits his daily routine of sticking to his diet and working out before games and, of course, getting his rest, which includes naps before home games.

Cruz isn’t sure how much longer he plans to play. He doesn’t think about his age — he jokes he only thinks about it when he’s asked. But he still feels young and plans to play like it, even if he’s not wearing a Nationals uniform much longer.

“It’s something that you can’t escape from, you know?” Cruz said about getting older. “Age will catch up with everybody. I don’t think age necessarily has to limit the way you play.

“I feel like I’m running pretty good. My speed’s there. My bat speed’s there … But whatever you put in your mind, it’s gonna work. If you say you’re old, you’re gonna be old.”


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