WASHINGTON — When the Rangers released Asdrúbal Cabrera in early August of 2019, the veteran infielder thought the final months of that season would be his last in the Major Leagues. He was 33 years old and had been in the bigs since ‘07 — perhaps his run was nearing its end.
But then he heard from the Nationals, with whom he had previously played in 2014. They were turning around their season and looking for a veteran presence to help keep the clubhouse upbeat. Three days after parting ways with Texas, Cabrera signed with Washington.
Three months later, he was a champion.
“I’m just going to have fun here and see what’s going to happen,” Cabrera recounted telling his family during a videoconference on Thursday. “And we made it to the World Series and we won the World Series, so I’m never going to forget that year.”
The Nationals haven’t forgotten him, either. More than just a positive voice, Cabrera impressed manager Dave Martinez and earned meaningful playing time. He made 29 starts at second base in the 2019 regular season, and he appeared in 12 games during the playoff run, providing three RBIs in the World Series.
“Before I signed with Washington, I was thinking to go home,” Cabrera said. “But the way I finished that year with really good numbers, it helped me to keep my head up and say that I’ve got more in me.”
Cabrera returned to the Nats for the 2020 season. He was a do-it-all veteran, mentoring Carter Kieboom at third, helping at first base after Ryan Zimmerman elected not to play and stepping in as the designated hitter when needed. Cabrera hit .242 with 31 RBIs in 52 games.
“He was unbelievable,” Martinez said. “I’ve asked him to do things that he probably didn’t know he can do.”
The Nationals’ roster underwent a significant overhaul this offseason, and Cabrera was one of the several members of the 2019 title team that did not return. After he did not receive a call from the Nats, he signed a one-year deal with the D-backs in late February.
“We won a World Series with Asdrúbal, and he was a big part of the reason why we won,” Martinez said. “His everyday approach and the way he handled himself in the clubhouse, he’s a guy that you want around. I was so proud of him coming over here and helping us do the things that we did. I’ll never forget those guys.”
Cabrera made his first return to Washington on Thursday as the Nats began a four-game series. He entered hitting .273 with a .950 OPS and nine RBIs in 10 games.
“I love to show the people this year that no matter how old you are, if you feel healthy, then you can do your stuff on the field,” he said.
Cabrera still keeps in touch with Martinez, several members of the coaching staff and Aníbal Sánchez, among others from his time on the Nats. He was looking forward to seeing his former teammates on the field, and then it would be back to business for the veteran.
“It’s hard to explain how excited I am to be back and say hi to my friends on the other side,” he said. “But as soon as the game starts, I need to forget that.”
Jackie Robinson remembered
The Nationals and Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Thursday. As part of the annual tradition that began in 2009, all players and on-field personnel wear No. 42 jerseys in commemoration.
“Jackie’s not here but never forgotten, as you know in this game,” Martinez said. “He broke barriers. And in the world we live in today, we’ve got to remember that it’s a struggle and we’ve got to keep pulling forward, keep going forward, and he’s the one that represents that for most of us — if not all of us.”
Next month, signed game-worn jerseys from the day will be auctioned off to benefit the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
Righty reliever Will Harris tossed 20 pitches in a “light” bullpen session on Wednesday, Martinez said. Harris, who is on the 10-day IL (retroactive to March 29) because of right hand inflammation, threw at approximately 70-to-75 percent. He is slated to pitch another bullpen on Friday.