Abbott shows Cubs what they're missing

Righty tosses career-high six innings in start vs. former club

August 17th, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Facing the team that drafted him for the first time since he was traded to the Giants in late April,  would have understandably been a little amped for his seventh outing (fourth start) of the season with the Nationals.

But Abbott was calm and methodical, tossing a career-high six innings with a career-high-tying five strikeouts against the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon at Nats Park.

He allowed only two runs -- on former batterymate P.J. Higgins’ two-run homer in the fifth -- and took a no-decision in the Nats’ 3-2 loss to Chicago.

Abbott credited conversations with new teammate and 2019 World Series MVP  for his approach to slowing down his pace between pitches and catching his breath. This helped him maneuver through the Cubs’ lineup and scatter just three hits.

"I was talking to Strasburg the last couple times with my outings,” Abbott said. “That was kind of a topic to bring up, using my breath to kind of reset and then attack. Got good results."

Abbott said it was incredibly valuable for him as a young starter to be able to bend the ear of a pitcher of the stature of Strasburg, whose locker is a few feet away from his on the same side of the Nationals’ clubhouse.

“He's been pretty good at watching and giving tidbits,” Abbott said. “He's not going full analysis, but it's been very helpful. [It’s] huge. Guy that's been through the experience, been through the World Series -- I am always going to be able to go to him. Very, very thankful for that."

Abbott struck out five and retired nine Cubs in a row at one point, until Higgins got a hold of one with a man on. That swing was the one that hurt most for the 26-year-old right-hander against the club with whom he spent six seasons building towards the big leagues.

"When I gave it up to P.J. -- he caught me a lot throughout the Minors and stuff, so that was kind of a little dagger," Abbott said.

But the important part of the outing for Abbott was his ability to pitch six full frames. Manager Davey Martinez spoke pregame about how the Nats need their starters to eat up more innings, and Abbott came through.

"Right now, the biggest thing for us is getting our guys to get through the sixth inning. We need that,” Martinez said. “We can't have them come up and go four innings because it will kill our bullpen. I think they all understand it. And it's all about throwing consistent strikes."

Abbott did that on Wednesday.

"He gave us a chance to win,” Martinez said. “He threw the ball well. As we talked about, pounding the strike zone, his pitches [were] getting early swings, early contact, which was great.”

Right fielder Joey Meneses continues to crush the baseball in the first few weeks of his Major League career. His first MLB double in the sixth added to a career-best 11-game hit streak. He went 9-for-26 (.346) during the homestand, with a double, a homer, three runs scored and an RBI.

In 13 games with the Nats, six of his 17 base knocks have gone for extra bases.

The one at-bat that Meneses would like to have back came in the eighth. With the Nats down 3-2 and Lane Thomas at second base, Meneses popped up to shallow right field for the second out of the inning.

"He is swinging the bat well. He really is,” Martinez said. “He said he missed a ball he should've hammered. Just a little bit too aggressive, got out front a little bit. But he's swinging the bat well, and he's playing well.”

Martinez and the Nationals will also be watching the recovery of a pair of young stars after they were hit by pitches in the series finale.

Nats starting shortstop CJ Abrams took a glancing blow off his right hand in his first at-bat, but he stayed in the game and subsequently stole second base. Martinez said they will monitor Abrams as they head to San Diego.

"He's fine,” the skipper said. “Good thing it got between the bat and his hand. It pinched him more than anything. He's going to get checked out, probably get some ice on it. But he said he felt fine."

More concerning might be the health of Nats starting catcher Keibert Ruiz, who was hit again by a foul ball but also stayed in the game.

"He's OK,” Martinez said. “We are going to have to figure something out, but I think they said it's been about close to 30 times this year. It’s been a lot.”