Juan Soto’s first experience with COVID-19 protocols set up by Major League Baseball and Washington, D.C., was a two-week quarantine period spent in his apartment, after contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus at in-take testing in the first week of July.
Soto missed the first two weeks of Spring Training 2.0, upon returning to the nation’s capital from his home in the Dominican Republic, then got back to work in advance of the July 23rd season opener against the New York Yankees.
A positive test for the 22-year-old outfielder on Opening Day and another period of isolation later, Soto returned to Nationals Park for Saturday’s workout and scrimmage.
His frustration with the whole process was understandable, especially considering he was asymptomatic, and simply waiting for two consecutive negative tests before he could get back to work.
“He came — he showed up here to play baseball, and now he had two stints where he had to sit inside his apartment and do absolutely nothing,” manager Davey Martinez said after the team’s workout and intrasquad game.
“Just what he could do inside his apartment. So that is frustrating. Hopefully, like I told him, let’s put this all behind us, and let’s get you ready to play and help us win ballgames and do what you love to do.”
“For me in my mind I think it was a [false] positive,” Soto said. “I’ve been working on it. I’ve tested a bunch of times negative. I’ve been following the rules, being in the right spot, and that’s why I think it’s a [false] positive. Because I’ve been following the rules, I’ve been really serious with this.
Soto, in two MLB seasons, has put up a combined .287/.403/.535 line with 57 doubles and 56 home runs in 266 games and 1,153 plate appearances, over which he’s been worth +8.1 fWAR.
At some point this week he’ll start on his third big league campaign, if they’re still playing baseball in a pandemic at that point.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Martinez said.
“He hasn’t been able to get out in the field and do anything, as we all know. So, we got to get him back.
“His legs are feeling a little sluggish, so we got to get him on his feet and get him back.
“I wanted him to run the bases just to get used to the turns again, and we did that, and then I said if you need to run any more, if you feel like you need to run, then go ahead and do it on your own, but we need to get him in baseball shape again, and that’s my biggest concern. He took some swings today, he took a lot of swings during BP, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there.”
Soto was asked if he thought he’d be able to return by Tuesday night when the Nationals and New York Mets start a two-game set in D.C.
“I don’t know yet,” he said.
“I’m trying to work to see if I can come back by Thursday or Friday. I don’t know, maybe it can be Wednesday, but I’m working to be back by Wednesday.”
He did what he could to stay in shape in quarantine, and now he’s trying to build up in a hurry to get ready to play.
“I’ve been watching the games, trying to work out through the games, so I’ve been working out with the games. I’ve been riding my bike when my team is on defense, on the offense I try to do shoulder, core, whatever. But I try to keep my body in shape. I’ve been doing some leg stuff and other kinds of things. But I’ve been trying to keep my body in shape, and to be ready to come back.”
“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.
More than anything, he’s happy to hopefully be past all the drama, so he can get back to playing baseball.
“It’s been a really tough time,” Soto said. “I tried to do my best, I tried to be following the rules and do all that kind of stuff. It’s been a tough time.
“I just tried to keep my mind clean and try to not think too much about it. I tried to talk with my teammates, talk with my family, tried to be with my mom, just talking, cooking, do whatever we need to do, but really trying to keep my mind away from that, and trying to think about other things. I know the good moments are going to come, so that was my mindset.”