'Learning moment' spells trouble for Abrams, Nats

Shortstop drives in run, makes leaping catch but error opens door for Dodgers' rally

May 30th, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- A baseball game can change in the blink of an eye, with a single play shifting the momentum from one team to another.

Had it not been for CJ Abrams' fifth-inning error on Monday night at Dodger Stadium, the result might have been very different for the Nationals, who took a 6-1 loss in the first of three games against the Dodgers.

“It happens. It’s baseball,” said Abrams. “I’ve got to learn from it. [Starter ] had a tremendous game up until then, so I kind of feel like it's on me, but I've just gotta keep going. Just gotta keep my head and keep going.”

Indeed, Williams had cruised through four scoreless innings before issuing a leadoff walk to Jason Heyward in the fifth. When Williams induced a 1-0 grounder from Miguel Vargas, it looked like he could still have a shot at another quick inning. But Abrams missed the ball with his glove and booted it into shallow center field, allowing Vargas to reach safely and Heyward to get to third base.

“We talked to CJ about it, and we told him that this is a fast field,” said manager Dave Martinez. “It's one of those plays you gotta probably make one-handed instead of trying to get around it. I think he got all tangled up and it caused him to miss the ball. But it's just another learning moment for a young young kid that's actually done really well.”

From there, everything proceeded to go sideways for Williams and the Nats. Heyward scored on a sac fly, and while Williams got the second out on a Chris Taylor forceout, he then had to face the top of the Dodgers’ order for a third time. Williams allowed a base hit to Mookie Betts, a two-run double to Freddie Freeman and a walk to Will Smith, setting the stage for J.D. Martinez, who capped L.A.’s rally with a three-run homer.

None of those six runs were earned for Williams, whose night came to a close with his pitch count ballooned up to 90.

“We pick each other up all season,” said Williams. “The defense is going to pick me up, the offense is going to pick me up and the pitchers pick each other up. As a learning moment, I need to do better and not let that inning spiral out of control. I need to pick up CJ there. And then we all rely on each other that way.

“So it's a learning moment," added Williams. "It's a moment that I let slip out of my hands. But moving forward, I think it's something that we're both going to grow from.”

Abrams, a Padres first-round Draft pick in 2019 who came to the Nationals as part of the Juan Soto trade, is now tied with Boston’s Kiké Hernández for the MLB lead in errors with nine. But seven of Abrams' errors came in the first month of the season, and he’d gone 15 games without making an error prior to Monday.

And while his -6 outs above average entering play Monday were tied for third worst in the Majors, at just 22 years old and in his second Major League season, Abrams still has plenty of time to improve with his glove. He even showed what he’s capable of earlier in the game, making a nice leaping catch to take a hit away from David Peralta and end the bottom of the fourth. Peralta’s liner had an expected batting average of .770, according to Statcast.

It was a mixed night overall for Abrams, who provided his team’s sole run by singling home Joey Meneses in the second; a strong throw home from Jason Heyward in right field kept Abrams from collecting a second RBI. But it was a tremendous effort by Abrams to catch up to Dodgers starter Bobby Miller’s 98.8 mph sinker left over the heart of the plate. With an exit velocity of 112.5 mph, it was the hardest-hit ball of Abrams’ career.

“He's been really, really good,” Martinez said of Abrams. “He's been awesome. I mean, his work has been great, his routine has been really good. He’s swinging the bat really well. And other than tonight, his defense [recently] has been really, really good.”