Juan Soto started Friday night in Cincinnati with a 13-game hit streak going, over which the 20-year-old slugger was 22 for 49 (.449 AVG) with six doubles, a triple, three home runs, 13 RBIs, eight walks, and 13 runs scored.
The streak, which he started on May 17th, took him from .228/.345/.415 to .291/.394/.523 before the start of the series opener with the Reds in Great American Ball Park.
Soto talked earlier this month, after a 3 for 4 game in which he homered off Miami Marlins’ hurler Tayron Guerrero, on a 100 MPH fastball, about how well he’s seeing the ball over the last few weeks.
“I’m just seeing the ball really well against him,” Soto explained. “I was seeing the ball like — it was 99 and I see it like 94, so I just tried to — when I swung at that ball I swung a little bit harder, so I tried to just concentrate on just hitting the ball and this is what happened.”
He also talked about his approach and thinking in the at bat, knowing who he was going up against and what he was looking for in the matchup, which ended when he crushed the 3-1 fastball from the hard-throwing righty.
“He was brought in to throw fastballs,” Soto told reporters, “... because he’s got one of the harder fastballs in the league, so I just tried to sit on it, and he didn’t throw the fastball for a strike, so he doesn’t want to try with the offspeed because he’s going to come at you with his best pitch, so I just sat on the fastball and I thought, ‘Don’t do too much with that one.’”
Soto had also reached base in 15-straight games before the opener with the Reds, with 23 hits and nine walks over that stretch, which was the second-longest on-base streak of the season in the majors and was tied for the third-longest on-base streak of his career, behind only the 21-game streak he put together from August 24th to September 16, 2018, and 16-game streak earlier this season between April 14-May 11.
Heading into the first of three with the Reds, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about what he’s seen from Soto over the course of his streaks.
“He works not only on his hitting but on his overall game,” Martinez said.
“He’s getting better. I know he went through a stretch in the beginning of this year, but he kept working, kept working, and like I said, his big thing is taking his walks and staying in the middle of the field. When he stays in the middle of the field, he’s really good, and he’s really, really smart. He watches a lot of video, I know, but he knows what he has to do and he makes in-game adjustments better than any young player I’ve ever seen.”
Soto also had to adjust to the way opposing pitchers were attacking him, throwing him anything but fastballs after he hit .386 with 15 of his 22 home runs on fastballs in 2018.
Before the start of play on Friday, Soto had seen the lowest percentage of fastballs among qualified hitters in the National League (45.6%), and had just a .228 AVG on four-seamers on the season, with a .273 AVG on sliders (up from .221 in 2018), .406 AVG on changeups (up from .212) and .188 AVG on curveballs (down from .289).
“We’ve been working with [Hitting Coach] Kevin Long and [Assistant Hitting Coach] Joey [Dillon],” Soto said before facing the Reds.
“We’ve been working on the balance to be 50/50 on my legs, and it was amazing. We have been working every day, every day, and you see the results.”
And, he reiterated, he’s still seeing the ball well.
“I think I’m seeing the ball really well,” he said. “I’m still seeing it really well. I was seeing it really well before, but just a couple of adjustments I made that make me feel a little better.
With a double in his first at bat on Friday, Soto tied Manny Machado’s record for the longest hit streak by a player under the age of 21 since Machado put together a 14-game hit streak between June 2nd-16th in 2013.
Soto homered in his second at bat in the fourth, and singled in the eighth to finish the night 3 for 4 (.301/.401/.551 on the year), with his 12th double, 10th home run, and two more runs scored.
“He doesn’t go up there trying to hit home runs, but if you see where he’s hitting them, he’s staying up the middle of the field, which I like a lot,” his manager said.