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Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto win NL Batting Title with .351 AVG in 2020

Juan Soto is the youngest player to win an NL Batting title. He’s still only 21. For real.

Davey Martinez was concerned about Juan Soto, when the Washington Nationals’ 21-year-old outfielder was stuck in quarantine after a positive test for COVID-19 on the morning of the season opener back in late July.

That followed a separate period in which he was forced to quarantine after he’d come in contact with someone who’d tested positive as he returned to Washington, D.C. from his home in the Dominican Republic.

So how did Soto, who was asymptomatic and thought it was a false negative, spend his time during the season opener?

“Apparently, he was standing in front of the TV with a bat during the game, taking pitches,” Martinez said, painting a sad picture of Soto alone in his apartment watching the game as he tried to work on his timing virtually.

“So the kid — obviously I miss him for sure, his teammates miss him, but we’ve got to do everything we can to keep him positive.”

“I just [felt] really bad about being at home, seeing all the guys needing another bat in the lineup, and seeing how they started a little slow and everything,” Soto said when he spoke with reporters following the season finale of the 2020 campaign.”

“It just felt bad for me to not be there. And for me, I just tried to keep my body in shape, I said I’m going to keep it in shape, because when I come back I want to play right away. So that’s why I was tracking pitches on the TV, I was riding my bike, and doing pushups and everything, because it was a hard time, but I said, I’m not going to give up, I’m going to try to keep my body in shape and come back ready to go.”

He did.

Soto started the series finale on Sunday afternoon with a .346 AVG on the season, ahead of the Atlanta BravesFreddie Freeman (.343 AVG) in the race for 2020’s NL batting title, and he walked the first time up in the matchup with the New York Mets in Game 60 of this year’s 60-game MLB campaign, then singled to raise his average to .351 before he was lifted from the game.

“I had pulled up all the stats of what was going on,” Martinez, told reporters when the skipper spoke after completing his third season on the bench in the nation’s capital.

“So, I kind of knew where he was at, so we kept an eye on him, we kept an eye on what was going on throughout the league.

“And I told him, I said, “Look, we knew what the situation was,’ I said, “You did your job, you got the base hit, and let’s see how it plays out.

“‘You were tremendous this year, I appreciate everything you’ve done. Let’s get ready for next year.’”

Freeman ended up going 1 for 4 to finish the season with a .341 AVG on the year, and Soto won the National League batting title.

According to Baseball Almanac, and confirmed with Elias Sports by the Nats, the previous, “youngest batting champion in the National League [was] Pete Reiser, who hit .343 in 1941, when he was 22 years, 195 days old.”

Soto, at 21 years, 338 days, became the youngest when he won it, though Reiser did it over 137 games and 601 plate appearances that season, as opposed to Soto’s 47 games and 196 PAs this summer.

“What can we say about Juan Soto,” Martinez said of Soto’s latest achievement.

“He comes every day ready to play. Not just hitting, but his defense, his baserunning, everything, and he just keeps growing every day, so...

“Congratulations to him and what he’s done. Unbelievable accomplishment.”

Martinez dismissed a question about the validity of a batting title in this 60-game season.

“It was always considered the 2020 championship season. So with that being said, these guys came out to play and play to win,” he said.

“For me, Juan did everything he could, he ended up leading the league in hitting. And rightfully so and he deserves any accolade he gets. It’s not easy, there’s a lot of good players in this league and for what he did and what he went through, even in the beginning of the year, starting off the way he did, man, what an incredible 60 games he had.”

“I mean, it’s a little different because we just played 60 games and I didn’t get to play all 60 games,” Soto acknowledged

“I just feel good about it because you see how consistent you’ve got to be to win it. That means you’ve got to be consistent the whole two months. So, it just feels good. I never won one in [162] games, I can’t tell you if it feels the same, but it feels really good at this point.”

“I mean I feel really happy,” Soto added at another point. “I just thank God for everything. I just feel really amazing. All the job we’ve done this year and more when it’s a fight that close, you just feel really good. The hitting coaches and everybody was happy with me and I’m glad it just happened.”

“He’s special,” teammate Trea Turner said on Sunday afternoon.

“I say it — there’s two things that I’m really impressed about him. One, he’s consistent, and that’s what I try to be, but you watch a guy like him and he just either walks, or if he gets out, and the next at bat is even better and he squares the ball up, and if he squares the ball up and gets out, you feel like oh, that hit needs to fall for him, he just does it again.

“The consistency is really impressive, and I think that’s why he’s going to be good for a long, long time. You see guys that are streaky, and he’s not streaky, he’s just good every day.

“And then he’s not scared of anything, he’s not scared of anybody, he’s not scared of any situation.

“He wants to hit every time no matter if he’s up by 10, down by 10, just the fear factor isn’t there for him, which is really special, especially for a kid that young.”

“You haven’t seen the best of Juan Soto yet, that’s for sure,” Martinez said.

“I mean, he’s going to continue to get better in all aspects of the game. You’re talking about not only a potential MVP this year, but for many, many years.

“He’s good, he’s really good, and like I said, he wants to get better.”