Davey Martinez doesn’t think that Juan Soto’s left shoulder strain, which landed the 22-year-old slugger on the Injured List in April, is behind the preternaturally gifted hitter’s struggles hitting for power this season.
“We talk to him a lot about what’s going on,” Martinez said before the first game of Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader with the Milwaukee Brewers in Washington, D.C. “He says he feels fine. The shoulder doesn’t bother him. On occasion, on a certain throw, he might aggravate it a little bit, but other than that he says swinging it doesn’t bother him at all.”
The thing they’ve been working on since Soto started building towards his return to the lineup is the point of contact.
“Honestly, I think it’s just the point of contact with him,” Martinez explained when he was once again asked about Soto’s lack of extra base, or simply elevated, hits.
“He’s hitting the ball hard. And we talk a lot about two strikes, he’s been in a lot of counts where he’s two strikes, where as you can tell, he’s spread out and he has his two-strike approach, so for me, we talk about just hitting the ball out front a little bit more to get that elevation, but he’s hitting the ball hard and he’s getting on base, and he’s hitting line drives, so I think it’s just a matter of — those guys, when they hit home runs, as you know, when they start hitting them, sometimes it comes in bunches. And hopefully that will happen with him where he starts feeling that swing and ground balls all of a sudden become line drives and homers.
“But I don’t want to put too much stuff in his head, because like I said, he is getting on base, he’s hitting line drives, and I think the home runs will come.”
Soto’s hit just four early this season, two in one game before the IL stint, and two since he’s returned to the lineup, including a mammoth blast in Wrigley Field that bounced off the big scoreboard in right field. Soto was way out in front of that one, and it seemed for a time like that could have been a big step in the return of his power swing.
“I go back to — when I watch his video and watch his point of contact, and the bat head was really out front,” Martinez said of Soto’s shot in Chicago, “and that’s something that we always tell him, just hit the ball out front a little bit more, because he stays back on the ball really well, as we all know, his bat stays in the strike zone for a very long time. It’s something that you watch now where Josh Bell is swinging the bat really well and I’m watching his bat and how long it stays in the strike zone. And that’s what makes him really good, but I think it’s just a matter of time before Juan gets that point of contact a little more out front. Even when he hits the balls to left-center field, when I watch the balls go out, his body is behind his swing and his bat is out in front of him.
“So once he gets that he’ll start elevating the balls and hitting the ball a long way.”
Not elevating balls or hitting the ball a long way frequently has led to visible frustration from Soto, as we saw when he slammed his helmet after grounding into an inning-ending double play in the third yesterday, after Andrew Stevenson bunted his way on, and moved up on a sac bunt by pitcher Patrick Corbin, before Trea Turner took a one-out walk. But Soto rolled over a 1-1 four-seamer outside from Freddy Peralta and grounded into the 4-6-3 twin killing.
“You know, man, it’s kind of tough,” Soto said of the GIDP, after what ended up a 4-1 loss.
“We’ve been working a lot trying to drive the ball to the middle and just to kind of roll over right there in a big situation where we can get some runs, it’s very tough for me. I tried to control it, but the emotion’s just coming out. But forget about it. Forget it and keep going.”
“You know,” Martinez said of the frustration he saw from Soto, “... this is why I don’t really want to talk to him much about — because like I said, he is hitting the ball hard, he lined out his first at bat. I keep telling him, ‘Hey, it’s going to come. Just see the ball, get a good pitch, and hit it. You’ve been hitting the ball hard.’ Just like I said before, his contact point, as we talked about, needs to be a little more out front. And he knows that. I thought he took a pretty good swing on the ball to left field, he got the ball up in the air, so I told him, I said, ‘Hey, it will come.’ And I always mention to him, ‘Don’t try to be the guy, just be a guy, and do your thing and the guys behind you will do their thing. It’s going to come. Don’t push it. Stick to the process, and it will come.”
Soto insisted after the first of two games yesterday that it’s not the shoulder that’s an issue when he was asked if it’s still affecting him after nearly a month back in the lineup.
“No, not at all,” Soto said.
“My shoulder feels really good right now. Everything, throwing, swinging, there was never pain when I [was swinging], and it feels great when I throw right now. All the guys they know, they really got my back before, now I feel really good. I think I can have their back.
“I feel ready to go. I think my shoulder is not any problem right now.”