A positive test for COVID-19 last July, on the morning of the 2020 season opener, kept Juan Soto out of action for the first eight games, but the now-22-year-old outfielder managed to stay sharp while in quarantine, watching his teammates on TV with a bat in his hands so he could work on his timing while he waited to get cleared to return.
Soto did, of course, return to the club, and did end up winning the 2020 NL Batting title (.351 AVG); while posting the top OBP (.490) in the majors, the highest SLG (.695), the highest wOBA (.478), highest wRC+ (200), the fifth-most walks (41), and the highest BB% (20.9%) in 47 games and 196 plate appearances in a 2.4 fWAR season.
Knowing how it felt to have to sit at home while his team was playing last season, Soto said he can empathize with the eleven players total currently in quarantine as the 2021 season gets underway.
WATCH - "We would love to lock Juan up to a long term deal, but he and his agent have to be ready to do that"— Scott Abraham (@Scott7news) March 30, 2021
I just had a one on one interview with @Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner.
We discussed Juan Soto's future here in Washington.
More here - https://t.co/PiL3cT8IG8 https://t.co/xqa9WxCv8W
Four players tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning from West Palm Beach, FL, and a total of seven others were identified via contact tracing to have been in close contact with one of the positive players.
Asked if it was hard to see it happen again, this time to others, Soto said, “I think I’m used to it. For me, it’s tough for everybody. It’s really frustrating.
“Everybody wants to be on the field. Everybody wants to be ready,” he added.
“It’s just crazy how it happened and how everything goes through, but I feel bad for my teammates, and I hope they can get ready and be back soon, as soon as possible.
“I try to pray for them and try to help them to keep safe and keep ready.”
Soto’s advice for how those now in quarantine can stay sharp?
“Try to not be crazy. Stayed tuned-in mentally and try to keep your body in shape,” he said.
Though he didn’t test positive or come in close contact with the ones who did, Soto and the rest of the Nationals were forced to sit and wait while the rest of the league got started, and they missed four games while waiting (one of which they’ll make up tomorrow).
Soto did what he could to stay sharp while he and the rest of the Nats waited to get cleared to return to work, which they finally did on Sunday.
“I just talked with my strength coaches, they gave me some workouts to do at home,” Soto said, “just some pushups, some pull-ups, squats, all that kind of stuff, just to try to keep my body ready, keep in shape.”
Having to sit and watch the rest of the league start their seasons has been tough though.
“It’s really tough,” Soto acknowledged. “It’s really frustrating. Because you really want to be out there. You want to be out there playing as they’re doing and giving your 100%. For me, it’s been tough. I already got used to it from last year, so I tried to do the same thing, just keep my mind ready, concentrate and try to watch a couple games, how they’re doing right now, so when you come in the league, you know how they’re going through.”
Later this afternoon, Soto and the Nationals will finally start their 2021 campaign, however, so what’s he looking forward to on Opening Day in D.C.? Just getting a win, Soto said.
“I just want to try to win. Try to get that first win,” he said. “Try to get everybody comfortable and get that confidence that we need right now. We need that confidence. So try to get the win and try to go come through in this series.”
While the rest of the league is one-to-four games into their respective seasons, the Nats will finally get on the field today when they take on the Atlanta Braves in the nation’s capital in a 4:05 PM ET matchup.
Though they’re starting late, Soto said, it’s not about how you start.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” he said. “So we’re going to try to start good, get a really good start, and more now, I think we have a little bit of an advantage, because we know where all the teams are at and how they’re playing and what they’re trying to do, so we’ve just got to try to get a really good start and see how the season goes through to the end.”