Now that Juan Soto is back in the Washington Nationals’ lineup, he’s supposed to be driving in the runners who were left stranded during games he was on the Injured List with a shoulder issue.
But opposing managers didn’t wait too long or to dig too deep into their notebooks for a strategy to stop him and the Nats: Just put him on.
Soto has been walked four times in the past three games, collecting just three hits and driving in just three run in seven games since coming off the IL on May 4th.
Because the guys behind him in the order are not coming through.
And the Nationals are still stranding baserunners and losing games without timely hitting with men on base. They are 1-6, including three one-run losses, in the last seven games.
“I truly believe [Soto is] going to have be patient and swing at strikes and take his walks,” manager Davey Martinez said after Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to Philadelphia.
“We saw a little bit last year towards the end, and he’s just going to have to be patient, and the guys behind him are going to have to come through. That’s just the way it is, you know.”
Bell is a combined 4-for-25 with 11 strikeouts since Soto came off the IL. Schwarber is 5-for-26 with eight strikeouts.
Those are two key free-agent acquisitions making a combined $13.35 million this season.
“They got to hit in the middle of that lineup,” said Martinez. “They understand that. I don’t want to put any pressure on them.”
In Tuesday night’s 6-2 loss to the Phillies, Soto was on base three times, but scored only once because the man behind him in the order, first baseman Josh Bell, was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
The cleanup hitter, Kyle Schwarber had a base hit and an RBI, and the No. 5 hitter, Yan Gomes was hitless in four at-bats with a strikeout.
That’s a combined 1-for-11, including 0-for-8 with Soto aboard.
“A lot of other teams have the same issues with some of their big hitters. But he did the right thing today. He drew some walks, he got on base for his teammates, we had some opportunities, just couldn’t get it done,” said Martinez.
In the seventh, Soto was walked on four pitches to load the bases with two out, but Bell could not take advantage of a 1-0 count against Jose Alvarado, taking a pitch low in the zone, fouling one off, and chasing low for strike three to end the threat.
“Yeah, I mean, I went up there just telling myself see a strike there,” said Bell.
“And then I got a pretty decent pitch to drive that second swing, or that second strike that he threw, you know, missed that, fouled that off, just sank underneath the barrel.
“Kind of tough AB, but I feel I can make adjustments and grow from it.”
Martinez said he moved Bell down in the order recently to make him more comfortable, but he ultimately needs production in the middle of the lineup.
“Him and Schwarber and Castro and those guys, they’ve got to hit,” said Martinez.
Martinez said the team isn't giving up on Bell anytime soon.
“We need him. He’s a big part of our lineup, said Martinez. “We know that in the past he’s been streaky, and when he starts to hit, he starts getting it he can carry us for a while. So we’ve got to just stay with it.”
The manager says he sees some positive signs.
“He’s coming in early, he’s getting tons of work in, he’s working the cage,” said Martinez.
“He’s getting a lot of work in, and he’s having good BP. He came up one at bat today and he smoked the ball to first base. He had nothing to show for it, but to me, that’s another good sign, so we just got to get some consistency now with him.”
Bell remains positive.
“Obviously, I want to be able to come through for the team.” he explained. “I think that if I’m in a good place in the box and driving the ball the way I know I can, that’s when good things happen.”