“No. 22, Juan Soto, batting fourth, playing left field,” Davey Martinez said in advance of Juan Soto’s 2020 debut, which followed two stints in quarantine for the 21-year-old outfielder who came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to the U.S. for the start of Spring Training 2.0, then tested positive himself before Opening Day, though he believes the result was a false positive.
So, of course, after all that time off, and a lot of work to get ready, Soto went 2 for 2 the first two times up to start the season, though he did slide past third base and get tagged out after the second hit.
He also made a diving play on defense in left field, though he landed awkwardly and said after the game he tweaked his wrist on the play.
Soto ended the night 2 for 4 with two hits and two Ks at the plate.
His debut came after Soto returned to the Nationals over the weekend, but sat out of the first opportunity to play last night, telling his manager he still felt there was work to do.
“I talked to him last night and he really felt like he probably could use another day or two,” Martinez said on Tuesday afternoon.
“He said his legs felt a little heavy. His arm was a little sore because he tried to ramp it up.”
Martinez was asked on Wednesday night if he saw that as a sign of maturity from his preternaturally gifted left fielder.
“I think it’s all based on — and I told him — I said, it’s about being honest. The last thing I want to do is get him back here and push him too quick,” Martinez said.
“I told him, I said, ‘Just be honest with me.’ We have a good relationship so he’s not afraid to tell me what he’s thinking and what he’s feeling. He said he probably needed another day.
“He wanted to push himself yesterday. He did that, and after the game he came to my office and said that he was good. So, it was good to know. I’m happy to see him back in the lineup. I know he’s excited to be back in the lineup, so I told him I said, ‘Hey, we’ll take it one day at a time. Every day I’ll come to you and talk to you and see how you’re feeling and we’ll go from there.”
How did Soto feel about getting back into the lineup?
“It feels good to be back,” he told reporters after last night’s game. “Being with the team, trying to have fun in the game and everything, it’s amazing, being with my team and my teammates and being ready to go.”
Doubling in his first at bat, Soto said, was a great way to start his season.
“It set everything for the game, it set everything up,” Soto said. “I feel good in that at bat, next at bat again, the third at bat I struck out, but I’m still feeling good, because he made a great pitch up and in and the last at bat, I just swung at a bad pitch, but I feel really good, and all four at bats, tried to do my best, and tried to get on base.”
“He was really good,” his manager said, “He worked good at bats all night. The play he made in the outfield, it was a tough play, I’m glad he got up and was okay, but he played well.”
“It was a low line drive,” Soto said of the diving play.
“I just tried to keep the ball in front of me, and when I get close to the ball I see the ball is dying, so I had to take the decision and tried to dive.
“Finally I caught it, I feel good about [catching] it. My wrist got a little bit under my body, it hurts a little little bit, but everything goes through good, and after that it feels good, my wrist, everything was good.”
Going forward, Martinez reiterated, he’ll just check in with Soto on a daily basis to see that he’s feeling okay to go.
“We’ve got a day off tomorrow, I’ll probably check in with him tomorrow and see how he’s doing, but I anticipate he’ll be ready to go on Friday.”
Also: You might have noticed that Nationals Park, which hasn’t gone in for the cardboard cutouts in the seats with no fans in the stands this season thing, had some in left field to welcome Soto back.
Apparently, the Nats’ left fielder wanted to bring his family to the park for his first game of the season.
“I just wanted to feel my family here,” Soto said earnestly.
“With all this has been crazy. I just wanted to feel my family back there. And I have a couple uncles who have never been to the field, in this stadium, so it’s their first time.”
Running out there the first time, and seeing (and even waving to them), how did it feel?
“It feels like they are out there,” Soto said. “ I’m playing for them, I play for all my family, and everything I do is for them.”
“That was awesome,” Martinez said. “I think he opened up a can of worms. We’ll see what happens here.”
So the manager liked it too? Does everyone on the team want them now? “I’m pretty sure,” Martinez said. “I’d like to get some of my kids out there.”