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Cruz returns, Adrianza jogs, Strange-Gordon throws

ATLANTA — Less than an hour before today’s scheduled first pitch at Truist Park, Nelson Cruz was in shallow left field, stretching, exercising and testing his tight groin with the executive director of medical services of the Nationals, Harvey Sharman. He was still unsure whether he would play this afternoon or not after sitting out Tuesday night’s game.

Then Cruz returned to the visitor dugout, headed for the batting tunnel under the stands, and about 15 minutes later the Nats pulled out their lineup. With Cruz hitting third and serving as the designated hitter.

“He came in, got treatment, said he felt better,” manager Davey Martinez said earlier in his office. “I want to put him in the cage, let him hit, see where we are. We haven’t posted a schedule yet because we’re waiting for it.

Cruz couldn’t play on Tuesday, telling Martinez before the game that he “couldn’t come off.” The manager immediately told the 41-year-old to seek treatment and see if he could feel well enough to pinch later in the game. Once the Nationals were trailing in double digits, there was no reason to take a chance, so Cruz never appeared.

He’s back today, however, for the sixth time in seven games to start the season. And in the short time he has been at the club, he has established a relationship of trust with his skipper.

“The most important thing with me is that he’s very honest,” Martinez said. “I can ask him how he feels, and he’ll be honest with me. It’s something I told him he had to do. … This guy wants to play every day. He wants DH every day. He tells me every day: Just write my name in the list and if something is wrong, he will let me know. And yesterday was a perfect example. He wasn’t feeling well, and I respect that. The guy knows his body better than anyone. I’m good with that.

* Ehire Adrianza is staying in West Palm Beach, Fla., to treat his left quadriceps strain. And while the infielder is making progress, it looks like he still has a ways to go before he’s ready to join the active roster.

Adrianza, who was injured while running for first base in a March 31 exhibition game against the Mets, started running lightly on an anti-gravity treadmill that takes weight off his legs to make him easier.

He will need to advance to the point where he can run fully on the field again, then resume baseball activities and appear in certain types of games before leaving the 10-day IL.

“You never know with these kinds of injuries,” Martinez said. “When he comes back, we want him to come back 100 per cent healthy, so we have no problem moving forward.”

* As ugly as Tuesday night’s 16-4 loss was at times, Martinez’s saving grace was the fact that he never had to use any of his top five relievers, saving them for the series finale of today.

It was possible because Dee Strange-Gordon took the mound in the bottom of the eighth for the first pitching appearance of his long career. The speedy utility didn’t look exactly like the fire-extinguisher that his father, Tom Gordon, was decades ago. Most of his “fastballs” were recorded between 52 and 60 mph, although he fired one at 80 mph looking for a strikeout. He also threw a throw at just 34mph, which he laughingly called “my slider” today.

The Nationals had fun with it all, presenting Strange-Gordon this morning with a Trackman printout, showing off his “heat map.” It included lots of blue (weak areas) and little red (hot areas).

Kidding aside, Martinez appreciated Strange-Gordon picking one up for the team.

“I said to Dee, ‘I know you’re going over there and it’s not the most expedient thing to do, with a positional player. But what you’ve done is keep us a another arm for the game today, which is a quick turnaround,” the manager said. “I said thank you to him. He was good with it. He said he understood what his dad went through all these years.