Juan Soto Back To 100%?:
Juan Soto got in on the fun on Friday night, going 1 for 5 with a walk as the Nationals beat the D-backs, 17-2. The hit extended a hit streak to four straight games.
Since he returned from an extended stay on Injured List with a left shoulder strain, Soto was 6 for 30 after Friday’s game (.200/.351/.300), leaving him with a .263/.388/.400 line after 24 games and 98 plate appearances on the season. Not exactly what we’ve come to expect, of course, but given the time off, not too surprising either.
What has his manager seen from Soto in the ten games since he returned?
“He’s hit a lot with two strikes,” Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom call on Saturday night, “which doesn’t seem to bother him, obviously, when he’s going well, but we want to be a little more aggressive early on. Get balls in the strike zone and swing at them.
“Yesterday, he took a few fastballs early in the game, but also hit the ball fairly hard too.
“I mean, didn’t get some of those balls in the air, but he lined out one time.
“I know he got a hit yesterday, but it will come. I know him. It will come. But we just want him to be a little bit more aggressive in the strike zone.”
But the manager said he isn’t concerned that it’s a lingering issue with Soto’s shoulder.
“He’s doing fine,” Martinez said. “We ask him every day, he’s getting work done every day, doing some strengthening stuff, and I communicate with him every day. He says he feels normal. He’s just got to go out there and get his reps and he’ll be fine.”
Soto went 2 for 4 with two ground ball hits in Saturday’s game, extending his hit streak to five straight.
Watching Robles Run:
As the manager described it, Victor Robles got hit “right in the belly of the hamstring,” with a pitch in Friday night’s game, and he left the field when, “it tightened up on him.”
Robles was 2 for 2 with two doubles before the HBP, so it was disappointing he had to leave the game, but the Nationals’ skipper was being cautious.
“I didn’t want to take any chances,” Martinez said after the series opener.
“So he got treatment, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but it hit him pretty square.”
Before the second game of three in Chase Field last night, Martinez provided an update on his 23-year-old center fielder.
“He went out and he ran and ran fine,” he said. “We took him out for precautionary reasons yesterday, he got hit pretty good in the hamstring, it was cramping up on him.
“So today he said he felt fine. Of course he’s a little sore, but we watched him run and he ran fine.
“We’ll keep an eye on him throughout the game and see how he’s doing, but he looked good running today.”
What did he see from Robles at the plate on the doubles he hit before he left the game on Friday night?
“He’s getting ready a little bit earlier, which is kind of nice,” Martinez said. “And he’s using his hands a lot better. He’s starting to come around, he’s swinging the bat better, so that’s awesome. We’ve got to get him going. Like I said, if he can get on base for us down there and flip that to the top of the lineup, we’re going to score some runs.”
The skipper also explained what he meant when he said Robles was getting ready earlier, and what benefits that has for a hitter.
“It actually helps you identify pitches a little bit better,” he said. “So he can do that, and another thing is that we’re getting him back to hitting balls in the strike zone and taking balls that he shouldn’t be swinging at.”
Going, Going, Gomes!:
Yan Gomes fell a home run short of the cycle on Friday, connecting for five hits total on the night, and finishing the series opener with a .288/.321/.500 line in 23 games and 84 PAs on the season. As the club mentioned in their pregame notes on Saturday, in 11 games before the second of two with the D-backs in Chase Field, Gomes was, “... hitting .375 with a .390 on-base percentage and a .700 slugging percentage,” two doubles, a triple, and three HRs in 11 games (10 starts) and 41 PAs over that stretch.
But 23 games (21 starts) in the club’s first 34 games, is a lot of work. Gomes, who shared catching duties with Kurt Suzuki in 2019 and ‘20, is the clear No. 1 now, with Alex Avila in D.C. to back up behind the plate.
What sort of work does Gomes do behind the scenes to keep himself on the field?
“He works diligently,” Martinez said. “He’s got a whole routine that’s pretty awesome.
“Stretching, strengthening, all kinds of stuff to keep himself going, and keep himself ready.”
Gomes is 33 though, with 10 seasons of catching on his knees, so how rare is it to have a catcher who can go as often as Gomes is able to? Rare.
“He enjoys it, he enjoys playing every day,” Martinez said.
“He understands the game, he understands that as much as he wants to play every day, it’s a tough position to play every day, and for us it’s nice to have Alex to play when he doesn’t.
“Alex has done a good job for us so far, especially behind the plate.”
Deciding when Gomes has had enough is difficult, but Martinez watches closely for signs that the catcher needs a day.
“It’s just communication with him, honestly,” he explained. “I mean, I know he wants to play every day, but I can tell when he needs a day, just by hearing it in his voice, by watching him. Yesterday, he went through a pretty good day, ran the bases a lot, I talked to him last night and he said he felt fine. I talked to him today again, and he said, ‘Hey, I feel good,’ so we’re going to run him back out there today and we’ll see where we’re at tomorrow.