Davey Martinez has assured reporters over the last few weeks that Juan Soto’s power stroke was getting there. While he was grounding out a lot after returning from a 10-game stint on the Injured List with a left shoulder strain, Soto’s manager was sure that the work they were doing would result in the sort of power we’ve seen from the 22-year-old slugger in his three-plus seasons in the majors.
“Juan, you watch him in batting practice, and he’s hitting balls just like he normally does to left-center field, homers to right field, center field,” Martinez said earlier this week, “and I’m talking about balls that are crushed. So, I think it’s just a matter of, one, not trying to do too much. Just go up there and just see the ball and hit it. I mean, like I said before, Juan is going to start getting the ball in the air, he’s going to start hitting his home runs and start driving the ball in the gaps, I know that.”
In 12 games after returning from the IL, before the Nationals arrived in Chicago for the four-game series with the Cubs, Soto was showing signs of getting there, but he had one extra-base hit, a home run on May 7th in New York. He had hits, eight singles in 46 PAs, but he’d yet to find his power stroke at the plate.
Soto doubled in the second game of three in Wrigley Field, however, and in his third at bat against righty Jake Arrieta on Wednesday night he connected on a 3-2 slider inside and hit one out to right field, 421 feet out, at a 34-degree launch angle, and off the scoreboard for his second home run since coming off the IL and his fourth of the season in 121 PAs.
The home run was one of three hits on the night for the right fielder, who had multiple hits in three of five games going into the series finale with the Cubbies.
“It feels better,” Soto said of his swing after the three-hit game.
“We figured it out little by little. I think I feel great. I started putting the ball in the air a couple times, and it feels almost normal again.”
Soto said adjustment of his contact point made a difference.
“It’s just a little bit better, yeah, definitely. We’re still working though with those pitches that I’m catching a little bit late, but yeah, we’re catching the ball out there and just let it fly.”
The pitch from Arrieta that he hit out got deep.
“I really let the ball travel a little bit. I’m seeing the ball really well against him and since I see that ball coming in, I know he’s not going to be down or anything like that,” Soto said. “It’s a cutter, he tried it in my at bat before. So I was a little bit aware of it, and I just see it and I got good contact.”
“The barrel of the bat was a little bit more out front,” Soto’s manager said, “... but the good thing is he hit the ball the other way on the line,” on his line drive single in the seventh, “and that’s always good to see with him, because he’s a guy like I said before that hits the ball all over, hits the ball hard all over, and can go deep anywhere in the ballpark, so it was good to see him swing the bat the way he did, and like I said, I wasn’t overly concerned with him, he’s a good hitter.
“We just noticed that he was hitting the ball on the ground and he needed to get his contact point a little further in front of him and he did that.”