Juan Soto’s advanced approach at the plate was at least part of the reason the Washington Nationals decided to keep the 19-year-old outfielder on the big league roster even after Adam Eaton returned from the Disabled List and some of the other injured players made it back.
Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said that he and GM Mike Rizzo were monitoring Soto from the start this season before they decided the time was right to give him a shot when injuries forced their hand last month.
“We actually kept a really close eye on him,” Martinez explained after giving the outfielder a night off in the series opener with the New York Yankees on Tuesday.
“He started out playing in A-ball, and then he works his way up and next thing you know. But we watched him, and Mike and I both thought he was ready.
“I mean, really, and he comes up here and he does all the little things you want to see out of a young player. He plays the game the right way, and he takes at bats, he takes his walks, he does everything right, and he’s had an unbelievable start to his career, so why not?
Juan Soto aka Childish Bambino pic.twitter.com/b3e1DDfv00— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 14, 2018
“It’s hard to sit him down, it really was. I woke up this morning scratching my head, but you know, it’s the right thing to do.”
Soto said before the second of two with the Yankees, that he looked forward to playing in front of the audience in the Bronx, and though he felt fine before the day off, he came out feeling even better.
“Everything feels better,“ Soto said. “The day off helped me more, it was very good. Before that I feel good, so now I feel better and that’s good.”
While he said he didn’t necessarily need the day, he took advantage of the opportunity.
“I felt very good before, and if you give me a day off I’m going to take the chance and rest a little bit more and get better.”
It’s hard to imagine a much better start than he’s had, with a .328/.431/.541 line heading into the second game in Yankee Stadium, four doubles, three home runs, 11 walks and 11 Ks in 72 plate appearances.
Soto’s plate discipline in the minors carried over to the big leagues, after it stood out in his rise from Low-A Hagerstown to High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg briefly before he was called up.
“I watched him on video,” Martinez said, “and to watch his at bats, and see him take a swing at a bad pitch and then step out and take a deep breath and say, ‘Hey, you know what, I’m not swinging at that ball,’ and they try to do it again and again, and he doesn’t swing and he gets a good pitch to hit. That’s pretty impressive for a 19-year-old, and he’s done it here, so it’s good to see and he’s maturing — I watch him, he’s maturing every day, and he asks questions every day about what he should do and how to run the bases, where to play the outfield against left-handed hitters, against right-handed hitters, when to play shallow, when to play deep, so he’s a student of the game.”
Martinez’s student of the game gave the Nationals a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth inning on Wednesday night, when he hit a 96 mph 1-0 fastball from Sonny Gray out the other way for a three-run blast that was his first off a right-hander this season, and his fourth overall.
Soto did it again in the seventh, taking lefty Chasen Shreve deeeeeep to right-center for a solo shot that put the Nationals ahead, 5-4 and ended up being the game-winner.
It was Soto’s fourth off a lefty and fifth overall, and it traveled 436 ft. Yankees’ fans threw it back, but it still counts.
Hello, us again.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 14, 2018
Just popping in to remind you that Juan Soto is 19. pic.twitter.com/ZAEUxh7hss
What stood out for Martinez on Soto’s big night?
“He works good at bats,” Martinez reiterated. ”He’s been doing that since we got him here.
“He’s done it in the minor leagues. So, he came through for us, big time. Staying on that ball and hitting the ball to left field like that was unbelievable.
“That ball was a pretty good pitch and for a left-handed hitter to hit a ball like that, it’s pretty awesome.”
Soto said he was actually surprised that the first of his two home runs made it out to left.
“I was surprised yeah,“ he told reporters after the game, “because I hit it pretty good, but too high, so I was believing, running the bases saying, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.’
“When it was gone it felt pretty good.”
Martinez jokingly took the credit for Soto’s success, attributing it to his decision to rest the rookie on Tuesday.
“I’m just glad I gave him the day off yesterday,” Martinez said.
“He came back he was fresh and he was ready to go and he had a good day.
“But, hey, for him to go out there and do what he did today, in front of this crowd, just tells you a little bit about the character that he brings.”