Davey Martinez was thrilled to see Juan Soto back at Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon, now that the 22-year-old outfielder, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Opening Day and has been asymptomatic and in quarantine since, was cleared to return to working out with the club.
“He came in this morning,” Martinez told reporters in a Zoom call once the team’s workouts were done.
“First time I saw him, comes in my office with that big old smile, and besides him being a baseball player that’s what I miss about Juan. His personality. Having him around. That big smile. We love the kid, he’s part of this family, so to get him back here, getting him going again, guys were excited. I know he was extremely excited to be back.”
Soto, who missed two weeks of Spring Training 2.0 after coming into contact with another person who tested positive, and then testing positive himself, the morning of the season-opening game, was just happy to be past it all and back working out with the team as they try to stay sharp while waiting for this coming Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets after their weekend series with the Marlins in Miami was postponed following a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.
“I’m really excited,” Soto said of just being back at the ballpark in a separate Zoom call.
“I’m happy to be back, knowing we have a season already [going] — that I’m not coming back for Spring Training. I’m more excited than that, I’m ready to come to work and be ready for the games.”
The next steps for Soto as he works his way back? Are there a certain number of at bats his manager wants to see him get before Soto jumps back in to game action?
“At this point not really,” Martinez said. “It’s more of how his body recovers the next day.
“He’s a young kid, we get it, we understand that. But when we get him back, we want to keep him healthy and keep him on the field.
“We want to make sure that like — the biggest thing for me is that his legs are underneath him.
“He’s going to get tons of swings, but the whole — just being sluggish from not ... going outside and doing the running and doing the baserunning and doing all the baseball things, we want to make sure that the next few days we can do all of that and then see where he’s at come Tuesday. Hopefully he’s good. We don’t know that yet. He looked good today and we’ll see how he turns around tomorrow.”
“I think just start running,” Soto said when asked the same, about what he needed to do and what boxes he needed to check to know he’s ready.
“If I feel my legs are in shape I’m going to be good, playing left field and running the bases. For me it’s just try to keep my legs strong and try to find the velocity and everything.”
Soto did manage to hit a home run off Kyle McGowin during the scrimmage the club held in Nationals Park.
“It’s funny, because he told me what he was doing was watching the games on TV and had his bat and was actually just standing up there like he was hitting every at bat and trying to work on his timing that way,” Martinez said. “But — that’s great, but it’s not the same when you step in the batter’s box, so he makes it look kind of easy sometimes, but he knows, he feels like he’s a little behind with his timing.
“So we’re just going to try to get him as many at bats again tomorrow, if he’s capable, and then we’ll go from there.”
“It was amazing,” Soto said of the home run.
“First day, and more with my teammates — I had a couple guys behind me they were like, ‘Hey, when are you going to start hitting the ball.’
‘When are going to start doing this, this, this.
“Since I hit it I just looked at them and said, ‘Ballgame. This is over.’ It feels amazing.
“Every time you hit a home you’re going to feel good. It feels the same way and it feels a little bit more because it’s my first day.”