- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2022

Like most middle-aged men, Nelson Cruz loves his nap time. 

When talking to reporters Thursday for the first time since signing with the Washington Nationals, the 41-year-old designated hitter revealed a vital part to his training regimen to maintain his power.

Naps. A lot of them.

“I know my body well enough. I find routines. I find ways to first, and most important, stay on the field and trust the work I put in every day,” Cruz said when asked about how he’s remained one of the game’s best power hitters for the last dozen years.

“I rest a lot. Take a lot of naps, too.”

Nationals manager Dave Martinez doesn’t mind Cruz’s napping — under one condition.

“He can take as many naps as he wants, as long as he hits,” Martinez said. “I’ll even give him a pillow.”

All joking aside, Cruz, the Nationals’ new DH, said he believes signing with Washington — considered by many a rebuilding team — was the “right call.” He described his excitement to hit alongside fellow Dominican Republic product Juan Soto and discussed his approach to being a leader as he prepares for Year 18 of his MLB career.

“I don’t think I try to come up and be a leader. It just happens,” Cruz said when asked about his reputation in recent years as a leader as he’s journeyed from Baltimore to Seattle to Minnesota to Tampa Bay. 

“I’m going to be myself. I think you should lead by example. I come early, work hard and I do what I’m supposed to do on the field and off the field and let other things just take care of themselves. 

“Just his presence speaks for itself,” Martinez said about Cruz’s leadership. “He’s such a good human being, and he loves the game. He’s passionate about the game. … I tell all our young guys to watch him. He’s got an impeccable routine, he does it every day. He’s going to be good for our young kids.”

Martinez has been quiet regarding the Nationals lineup, aside from saying that Soto will obviously hit in the top three of the order and that he wants second baseman Cesar Hernandez to take charge of the leadoff spot. However, it’s likely that Cruz will hit behind Soto, either as the No. 3 hitter or in the cleanup spot. 

Either way, Cruz is down with having the 23-year-old’s back. 

“He’s one of the best hitters in baseball,” Cruz said about the 2021 National League MVP runner-up. “It’s going to be good to hit in front of him or behind him.”

“He’s pretty mature,” Cruz added. “He understands the strike zone pretty well. He knows how and when to make damage. It’s very impressive to see him on a daily basis.”

While nothing at this stage of his career is new to Cruz, playing for a National League team is quite the throwback for the outfielder-turned-DH. Cruz made his debut in 2005 with Milwaukee before the Brewers dealt him to the Rangers. He’s played for American League teams ever since.

But with the DH position making its official arrival in the NL this season, Cruz is prepared for the adjustment of facing some pitchers he’s rarely or never seen before. 

“That’s the biggest challenge, facing pitchers that basically I’ve seen once in my career,” he said. “I’ll have to trust the scouting reports and watch video. That’s what my preparation looks like on a daily basis, before I go to bed, before I show up to the stadium.”

Cruz has been one of the game’s most feared sluggers since he was with the Rangers in 2009 — hitting 22-plus homers in every season since and averaging 39 long balls since 2014 (excluding the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign). Last season, Cruz was an All-Star, hitting .265 with 32 home runs and 86 RBIs with the Twins and Rays. 

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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