Davey Martinez let his 19-year-old outfielder, Juan Soto, know that he was going to make his first start in the majors via text, but when Washington’s manager arrived at the ballpark on Monday, the Nationals’ top (available) prospect was there to greet him and thank Martinez for the opportunity.
“I texted him,” Martinez told reporters, “and he was the first guy I saw when I came in, so he shook my hand and gave me a hug, and said, ‘I’m ready.’ And I said, ‘I know you are.’”
He was ready.
Soto stepped to the plate for the first time with two runners on in the second, and hit a 90 mph first-pitch fastball from San Diego Padres’ lefty Robbie Erlin out to left field for a three-run, opposite field home run... in his second major league at bat.
Of course he did. Soto watched most of his first game in the majors on Sunday, with the Nats deciding not to send him out against lefty Alex Wood, though he did strike out in a pinch hit appearance late in the Nationals’ loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Martinez, who said after the finale with LA that he would look at the numbers before making out his lineup for Monday’s series opener with the Padres, decided to give Solo a start in spite of the fact that another lefty was on the mound.
“The splits on their lefty weren’t that bad, so I thought this would be a good matchup for him,” Martinez said before the game, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“Just let him go out there and get some at bats. Like I told him, ‘Just go out there and have some fun.’”
Juan Soto's first MLB home run was a no-doubter to the opposite field. Came off his bat at 106.8 mph. pic.twitter.com/6303vLYP8k— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) May 21, 2018
Soto sure looked like he was having fun.
After he homered the first time up, he singled and scored in his third trip to the plate, and handled everything hit his way in left field, where Martinez said he’ll be playing for now.
The Nationals took the first of three with the Padres, 10-2. Martinez told reporters after the game that he was excited that Soto got off to such a good start, and a little surprised when he homered.
“I just, was like, ‘Wow, 3-0. Alright. Nice going kid,” Martinez said when asked how he reacted to the home run.
“But, hey, I told you he’s got unbelievable poise, and he’s really, really, really a student of the game. He really is and he pays attention. I sat there and watched him, he sat next to me, he just watched everything going on, it’s pretty good to see.”
Soto told reporters he ran out of the box on his home run because he didn’t realize he’d hit it out.
“I didn’t think it was going to go out of the park,” Soto said. “I just run hard the same when I do it in the minor leagues, and then I heard the noise and I knew it was gone.”
The fans in Nationals Park wanted a curtain call from Soto after the home run, but he didn’t know what was expected.
“He didn’t know what to do about the standing ovation. We told him, ‘Hey, just go out there and he did his thing,” Martinez said.
“The guys, they told me to go out,” Soto explained. “‘They’re calling you.’ I think it was [Michael A.] Taylor, he said, ‘Hey, go ahead. Go ahead.’”
Soto finished the night 2 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBIs, providing a spark for a Nationals team that had just dropped three straight to the Dodgers.
The Nats connected for 15 hits total, with Mark Reynolds homering twice and Bryce Harper hitting his 14th of 2018.
Was Soto’s blast the spark they’ve been looking for recently?
“When he hit that ball, everybody was jacked up,” Martinez said. “And shortly after that we hit the ball pretty good.”
“You can tell he has passion for the game, loves the game, and he wants to play.”
“It’s exciting,” Martinez added. “It’s uplifting. Here’s a young man getting a chance to play in the big leagues at an early age. It pumps everybody up, and to watch him do what he did today, not only the home run, the base hit up the middle, the two-strike hard ground ball, the line drive with two strikes, all those things, defense, I watched him go after that ball in left field, and he knew where the wall was, caught the ball at his chest, I mean, that’s pretty impressive.”