Cruz sees himself in 'remarkable'  Yadiel Hernandez

May 18th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato's Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Nelson Cruz recognizes something special in Yadiel Hernandez. Not just for what he is doing at the plate, but for the long journey he -- like Cruz -- took to get to this point. Hernandez is having a breakthrough season at 34 years old.

"I see myself in him,” Cruz, 41, said.

Cruz signed with the Mets in 1998 and made his Major League debut with the Brewers in late 2005 at 25 years old. But he didn't appear in 100-plus games until he was with the Rangers '09, when he earned his first of seven All-Star selections.

"I got my chance when I was 29," Cruz said. "So, we're pretty close."  

Hernandez signed with the Nationals in October 2016. He worked his way up through their Minor League system and appeared in his first big league game on Sept. 10, 2020 -- one month shy of his 33rd birthday.

Three seasons later, Hernandez has become one of Washington’s most reliable hitters. Entering play Wednesday, he is slashing .330/.370/.500 and ranks atop several leaderboards. After making an impression as a backup outfielder, Hernandez has started 23 of the Nats’ 39 games in left field. Embracing the confidence and rhythm from consistent playing time, he also has moved up to fifth in the batting order and has been tabbed as the backup designated hitter -- to Cruz.

“He’s been remarkable,” Cruz said. “Earlier in Spring Training, I started looking at his stuff. During the season, I was telling him I didn’t realize how good a player he was. I tell him straight up, ‘You should be playing every day.’”

Cruz has shared stories of his path to the Majors as well as continued encouragement with Hernandez. These conversations with his first-year teammate have resonated with Hernandez throughout his standout season.  

“I think, in reality, that gives me motivation that someone that has done so much is still in the game at his age and he still has no thoughts of retiring,” Hernandez said. “He still plans to go on, and it gives me motivation and hope that I can do the same.”