Juan Soto wasn’t in the lineup for the Washington Nationals’ Grapefruit League opener on Sunday afternoon, but skipper Davey Martinez said before the game that their 22-year-old outfielder was fine and would play in the home opener today.
“He’s fine,” Martinez said. “Just he’s going to play tomorrow. We got a home game tomorrow. So he’ll play here at home tomorrow.”
Soto’s name was not penciled in when the lineup was released, however, so there were, of course, questions when the manager spoke to reporters this morning.
So why isn’t Soto in there for a second straight game?
“He was scheduled to play today, but he fouled a ball off his foot yesterday during live BP,” the skipper explained. “So, we’re just being cautious. He says he feels okay.
“We’re just going to give him a day or two and see how he feels tomorrow.”
Soto did miss time at the beginning of Spring Training 2.0 last July, after he tested positive for the coronavirus, though he never showed any symptoms, and he was able to return to the lineup as soon as he was cleared medically. He went on to win the batting title in the National League in the truncated season.
His manager didn’t seem too concerned about the issue that’s keeping Soto out this year for the second game of the spring.
“When you foul a ball off like that,” he said, “these guys wear these big old shinguards, and it went underneath. It got him pretty good.”
Soto finished the 60-game 2020 campaign with a .351/.490/.695 line, 14 doubles, 13 home runs, a .478 wOBA, and 200 wRC+ in a 2.4 fWAR season.
How has he looked early this spring, as he prepares for what will just be his fourth run in the big leagues?
“Good,” Martinez said. Soto wanted to get some ABs in in live batting practice yesterday since he wasn’t playing in the game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“His whole thing — he really hones in on seeing pitches. He likes to see a lot of pitches early in camp, and as we all know, he really focuses on hitting the ball in the middle of the field, staying in the middle of the field, so he stays inside a lot of balls during batting practice.
“But that’s him, man. He’s got a great game plan, a great routine when he comes to Spring Training. He knows what he wants to do. But he was in a good place.
“Physically, he looks really, really good.
“He put a few pounds on of muscle, but he leaned out. And he got a lot quicker. He often jokes around with me about stealing 30 bases. I told him, I said, you never know, if you’re ready for it you can do it. He’s intuitive, like I said he always — he wants to get better every day.”
The Nationals are hoping Soto’s foot gets better sooner than later, so they can get him in for his 2021 Grapefruit League debut sometime soon.