PITTSBURGH (AP) — CJ Abrams can put on a show during batting practice, sending balls to the far reaches of a ballpark with relative ease.
The shortstop’s power is starting to translate when the pitches come in considerably faster and the stakes are markedly higher.
The 23-year-old Abrams pushed his home run total to 18 with a towering two-run drive in the third inning and a solo shot in the seventh on Monday night, leading the Washington Nationals to a 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Abrams hit just two homers as a rookie in 2022, both of them before arriving from San Diego at the trade deadline as part of the deal that sent Juan Soto to the Padres. He’s now hit 11 since the 2023 All-Star break after his first career multihomer game.
“He’s giving himself a chance to hit every pitch hard,” Washington manager Davey Martinez said. “When he learns how to shrink the strike zone, he’s going to be an All-Star. He’s going to be something else.”
Abrams credited a shorter swing, a simplified approach and the ability to relax a little in the box as the main reasons why he has been able to deliver on some of the potential that made him the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft.
“Less antsy, anxious, (not) swinging at everything,” Abrams said. “If I can stay with that approach, I’ll be good.”
Abrams hit a two-run homer against Andre Jackson (1-3) to the concourse behind the wall in right-center to give the Nationals the lead. He drove a fastball from Cody Bolton over the 21-foot-high Clemente Wall in right in the seventh as Washington won for just the third time in 11 games.
Patrick Corbin allowed two runs and five hits in 6 2/3 innings to reach 10 wins for the first time since 2019. The 34-year-old struck out eight and walked one, bouncing back after allowing 14 runs combined over his previous two starts.
“I think it’s just (been) kind of a little tough stretch for us, but we’ve played some tough teams as well,” Corbin said. “But I just wanted to go out there and try to pitch deep in the game. The bullpen has been used a little bit, so just tried too maybe give some of them a couple of days off.”
Dominic Smith had two hits, including his eighth homer of the season. Keibert Ruiz and Ildemaro Vargas added two hits apiece for the Nationals.
“You know, we’re all getting better,” Abrams said. “So I think we’ll be good soon.”
Bryan Reynolds had an RBI single for Pittsburgh, which lost for the third time in four games. Ji Hwan Bae added an RBI double. Jared Triolo had a hit and made a couple of solid plays defensively in his first major league start at first base.
Jackson, who moved into Pittsburgh’s rotation last month not long after coming over from the Los Angeles Dodgers, gave up four runs in four innings. The 27-year-old retired his first six hitters before Washington started to zero in.
Abrams’ homer in the third put the Nationals up 2-0. Washington tacked on two more in the fourth on an RBI single by Joey Meneses and a hustle play by Luis Garcia, who beat out a potential inning-ending double play that let Meneses score.
“I’ve got to stay ahead of guys,” Jackson said. “I got ahead, left some pitches up, kind of the same as last outing a little bit. Just got to stay on the attack.”
Corbin, the last active player still on the roster from Washington’s 2019 World Series team, has been uneven at best for most of the last three-plus years. The left-hander has mixed good starts with meh ones with equal measure.
He allowed three runs or less in four straight starts between Aug. 4-24 but took the mound at PNC Park having been pounded recently by Toronto (six runs, five innings) and the New York Mets (eight runs, four innings).