Davey Martinez announced Juan Soto’s return from two weeks on the 10-Day IL with a left shoulder strain a few hours before the scheduled start of the Washington Nationals’ three-game series with Atlanta’s Braves last night in the nation’s capital.
“We made some moves today,” Martinez said in a statement he gave before his daily Zoom Q&A session with reporters got going.
“Soto is back on. We sent out [Kyle] McGowin. [Will] Harris is back on and we DFA’d Hernán Pérez. Soto is going to come off the bench and pinch hit when needed. We’ll try to get him in there and get some at bats for him.”
The obvious question: Why would you bring Soto back if he’s not set to return to the lineup on an everyday basis yet?
“I think this was obviously a conversation that I had with Juan over the last few days,” Martinez explained.
“After a few days of being on the IL, he started hitting and he feels really good, hitting-wise.”
Hitting, or swinging, was never an issue for Soto. Throwing was the problem which landed him on the IL.
“I talked to him, he wants to be here,” Martinez continued. “He wants to contribute in any way possible.
“To keep him around ... to have him as a threat on the bench, and plop him in situations where it could be a big moment is huge for our club. He understands that.
“He hasn’t missed that much time, so I think just him getting out there and seeing pitches and getting back in the swing of things up here is going to help him out a lot.
“I don’t know — it could be a day, it could be two days, it could be three days before he’s out there playing right field, but what I do know is we got these three games and then we actually go play the [New York] Yankees, which we have a DH, so that helps out a lot.”
Soto, as discussed earlier this week, will test the shoulder soon while throwing to the bases from the outfield, and Martinez said those tests will come soon. But not yet.
“He’s still not there,” the manager said.
“He’s going to do some crow-hop work, emulate like he is throwing to a base, but just straight on, not moving much, and then we’ll see how that goes. If that goes well, then hopefully tomorrow he’ll throw to a couple bases, but not many. If you think about it ... outfielders really throw the ball at an average of maybe three times per game when they really got to get behind the ball. So, if he throws three or four balls to second base and a couple to third base, we’ll see how that goes.”
And meanwhile, Soto will get back into the swing of things and provide a big bat off the bench.
“He looks good hitting,” Martinez said. “I watched him swinging, it doesn’t bother him to swing. But I want to make sure that he can go out in the outfield and make some throws when he needs to.
“It’s playing right field, still and all, we don’t want him to regress, we want to keep building him up. So we’ll see.
“He’s going to go out there now and throw, go through his throwing program, and we’ll see how he feels today and then we’ll go from there.
“But to have his kind of bat readily available to pinch hit, it’s kind of nice.”
The approach they’re taking, obviously, is in the best interest of the player, and the team, and the hope is that by bringing him along slowly they’ll avoid having the shoulder be a long-term issue.
“I want to make sure that this doesn’t just linger throughout the whole year. So, right now [Yadiel Hernández] is playing well, and obviously we do miss Soto’s bat in the lineup, so we’re going to give him some time to get this right so that he feels good about himself, he feels ready, and he goes out there and there’s no hesitation for him to get a ball and have to throw. With that being said, I’m going to be very cautious with him as well. We need him for the long-haul, we all know that. And he’s going to get a lot of at bats. If we get through this and he gets healthy, then we won’t have to worry about it.”
Soto got his first pinch hit appearance (since 2018) in the eighth inning of last night’s game, with a runner on and the Nationals trailing, 6-1, and he K’d swinging at a 96 MPH 1-2 fastball from reliever Tyler Matzek.
“It looks easy,” Soto said of the pinch hitter’s role after the game. “But it’s not that easy to come out, just hit a couple balls in the cage and then come out and face a guy 97-98. It’s kind of tough.
“I got my respect for those guys,” he added.
Overall, Soto said he’s feeling a lot better these days.
“I’ve been feeling really well the last couple days,” the 22-year-old outfielder said. “I’ve been throwing and doing some workouts for my shoulder and everything and it feels well.
“I don’t feel anything when I swing. Every time I used to feel it when I throw, so right now it just feels fine.”
The shoulder, Soto said, is coming along well, but they are going to continue to move slow and make sure it’s no longer an issue before he fully returns.
“It was bothering me in right in my triceps, around that area, but they say we just kind of got to do some work for that, some stability, and all that kind of stuff, and it will be fine. I don’t think it’s going to be anything that I’ve got to keep worrying about for the future.
“I just got to keep working hard and try to work on that specific part. Because they say everything else looks strong and ready to go, so my whole shoulder is ready to go and really strong. Just that little part I’ve just got to get a little work on that part.”
His manager was just happy to send Soto out there for the first time since April 19th.
“I wanted to get him an at bat today. He got an at bat, he’s going to see some pitches. We’ll get him going again.
“Like I said this is about getting him ready. We will see how he feels tomorrow, after he threw today, and then we’ll go from there.”