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Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto still learning, and improving... be afraid

Juan Soto and the Nationals knew that he wouldn’t keep getting fastballs to crush, and he’s adjusting to the diet of breaking and offspeed pitches...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Though he’s still adjusting to the fact that he’s not seeing many fastballs at all at the start of his second major league campaign, after his breakout 2018, Juan Soto is quietly getting his hits and heating up as the 2019 season rolls along.

Among qualified National League hitters, Soto was seeing the lowest percentage of fastballs, just 43% through 23 games after Wednesday, something the 20-year-old outfielder and the Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long expected coming in, but is still difficult to adjust to.

Considering the fact that he hit .386 with 15 of 22 home runs on fastballs last season as a rookie, opposing pitchers weren’t going to keep feeding him heaters.

“He’s a very smart young hitter,” Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez told reporters, as quoted by Washington Times’ writer Matthew Paras earlier this month, when asked about how Soto is adjusting to seeing mostly offspeed and breaking stuff.

“The biggest thing for him is not to chase. He knows the strike zone really well. And he’s just got to be a little more patient. … The biggest thing for him is to take his walks.”

In spite of the adjustments opposing pitchers have made, Soto started the series finale with the Colorado Rockies in Coors Field having reached base safely in nine straight games, and 17 of 18, with 16 hits and 16 walks over that stretch, and at least one run scored in 9 of 18.

His 17 walks overall on the season, were tied for fourth in the NL as well.

Not bad for someone who was “struggling” to a .241/.381/.418 line with five doubles, three home runs, the 17 walks, and 26 Ks through 97 plate appearances before the third of three with the Rockies.

Soto homered in his second trip to the plate against Rockies’ right-hander German Márquez on Wednesday, taking a 1-2 slider for a ride into the seats above the out-of-town scoreboard in right field for his fourth home run of the 2019 campaign. It was a pretty meaty slider to be honest, but he crushed it.

“I’m kind of happy it’s happening,” Long told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier earlier this month.

“Because at the end of the day, he’s so good and so talented, I’m not worried not even an inkling. I know he’s going to figure it out.”

Soto’s 1 for 5 game against the Rockies left him with a .241/.382/.446 line on the season.

Going into the matchup, the 20-year-old slugger ranked third among qualified NL hitters in OBP (.402) and ninth in OPS (.903) since his “debut” on May 15, 2018 (really May 20th then he time traveled).

After the finale with the Rockies, he has a .294 AVG on sliders (up from .221 last season), a .250 AVG on curves (.289 in 2018), and a .278 AVG on changeups (up from .212).

The fact that he’s still learning and improving should worry opposing teams...