Nats new bopper Cruz makes immediate impact with pitcher tip

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Nelson Cruz quickly showed the Washington Nationals he could bring more than a booming bat to his new team.

After standing in the batter’s box as Erick Fedde threw a live bullpen, Cruz approached the right-hander with a message: He was tipping his pitches.

“I saw something before he threw me the last pitch,” Cruz said Thursday. “I realized right away the pitch that was coming, even before the pitch. I told him be sure you do this the right way. Don’t change your pattern — the way you grab the ball and stuff.”

The 41-year-old slugger officially signed his contract worth $15 million for one year or $28 million for two seasons.

A seven-time all-star, Cruz has 449 homers to accompany a career .277 batting average.

“He’s a guy that I respect not only for what he does on the field but who he is off the field a as person,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I really feel lucky to have him.”

Washington hopes Cruz, the winner of Major League Baseball's prestigious Roberto Clemente Award last year, can provide benefits in the batter's box and inside the clubhouse.

The National League’s adoption of the designated hitter this year afforded the Nationals the opportunity to sign Cruz. Some lobbying from young star Juan Soto also helped.

“Come here,” Cruz said Soto told him. “Let’s do something special. Let’s win.”

Natives of the Dominican Republic, Cruz and the 23-year-old Soto have become friends through All-Star Games and charity appearances.

“It’s going to be fun to be behind him or in front of him, to see him hitting,” Cruz said of Soto.

Cruz remains a force at the plate.

He’s eclipsed the 30-home run mark in each of the last seven full major league seasons. His combined 86 RBIs last year for Minnesota and Tampa Bay snapped a streak of six consecutive seasons with at least 90.

Cruz broke into the majors in 2005 with Milwaukee, logging only eight plate appearances. Those are his lone at-bats are as a National Leaguer.

“Definitely, I think that’s the biggest challenge, facing new pitchers that basically maybe I’ve seen once in my career,” Cruz said. “I have to trust the scouting reports and watch video.”

Cruz hit 32 home runs and batted .265 last year. Soto’s 29 homers led the Nats.

Cruz gets a $12 million salary for this year, and the deal includes a $16 million mutual option for 2023 with a $3 million buyout.

Signed to be a DH, Cruz did take some groundballs at first base during Thursday’s first workout with the Nationals.

“Actually, he looked good over there,” Martinez said. “I started scratching my head. I said, ‘Hey, you never know.’ And he started laughing.”

Notes: Pitcher Sean Doolittle received a $1.5 million, one-year contract and can earn $2.05 million in performance bonuses for games pitched: $100,000 for 10 and each additional four through 34, $200,000 apiece for 38 and 42, and $250,000 for 46 and each additional four through 62.

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