Juan Soto Returns To Right Field:
Juan Soto made pinch hit appearances in each of his first three games after coming off of the Injured List, but he had to test the left shoulder which landed him on the 10-Day IL to assure Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez and the team’s trainers he was good to throw from the outfield before they allowed him to return to the lineup in right field.
Soto was the DH in the series opener with the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium Friday night, going 2 for 5 with a groundout and two strikeouts in his first three trips to the plate, before he hit a single and two-run home run in his last two plate appearances.
Martinez said he liked the progression he saw from Soto as the 22-year-old got his timing down in his pinch hit appearances, and locked in over the course of Friday night’s game.
“What I like is that he’s staying — the home run he hit was to left-center field,” Martinez said.
“So that’s telling me he’s staying on the baseball, he’s not pulling off, which is good, and his timing was good yesterday. He hit a couple balls really hard yesterday, one to the shortstop, and then he got a base hit on a breaking ball and then a home run.
“It’s just, for him, it’s just like I said, the timing, taking his walks and staying on the baseball. Yesterday he did that really well.”
He also threw before the game, and passed whatever tests the Nationals wanted him to pass, so Soto started in right field on Saturday.
“He threw to the bases yesterday,” Martinez said, “and it’s based on our conversation last night. He said he felt good after he threw and he played the game and came in last night and said he felt like he was good to go.
“He’s going to get a chance to play RF and we’ll see how the game goes for him today.
“It doesn’t mean — tomorrow we play here again and we can DH him tomorrow if we need to, but it’s good to get him back in the field.”
And, more importantly, back in the field with no restrictions, right?
“One, you know, right field is very short here,” in Yankee Stadium, Martinez said, “but we told him — I want him to play the game the way he normally plays, but just with caution. I mean, we talked to him yesterday about getting to the balls as quick as possible and just coming up and hitting the cutoff man.
“A lot of times if you do that anyway you put the pressure on the third base coach.
“If you get to the ball quick he’s got to hold the runner, and right field being so short, we want him to get to the ball as quick as possible and get it in as quick as possible.”
Soto went 0 for 3 with two walks on Saturday, and his arm wasn’t really tested.
Harrison Such A Good Time:
Josh Harrison went 1 for 4 with a walk in Friday’s series opener in New York, but the one hit was a big one, a three-run home run that jumpstarted Washington’s offense in what ended up being an 11-4 win. Harrison finished the night with a .325/.416/.494 line, four doubles, three home runs, eight walks, and eight Ks in 21 games and 89 plate appearances so far in 2021. Martinez talked after the game about just how valuable the 33-year-old utility man is for the team.
“Here’s a guy that I can play him anywhere, I can hit him anywhere,” the manager said.
“Nothing seems to bother him. He understands the game. We talk about this all the time.
“After the first inning, you just become a hitter in the lineup, you know, and he understands his role, he understands his job.
“He’s been playing really, really well for us. And it’s good to see. He’s getting an opportunity to play every day, and he’s doing really well.”
Harrison had a rough day at the plate on Saturday, going 0 for 5 with three Ks in what ended up a 4-3 loss in extra innings.
Yadiel Hernández’s New Role:
Davey Martinez talked earlier this week about Yadiel Hernández, who was called back up to the majors when Juan Soto landed on the 10-Day IL last month, earning a spot on the roster even after Soto returned with his play while the slugger was away.
Hernández, 33, went 11 for 33 (.333/.395/.424) with a home run, four walks, and 10 Ks in 12 games (eight starts) and 38 plate appearances while Soto was out (and then back making a few pinch hit appearances this week), and worked his way into a spot on the bench, where he’ll do a bit of pinch hitting now that Soto is back and playing the outfield.
Martinez was asked before Saturday’s game, if Hernández, who was just 2 for 15 over the previous five games going into the first of three with the Yankees, was getting pitched a little differently now that opposing teams had seen a good sample of at bats by the hard-hitting outfielder.
“Yeah, and also we noticed that he was getting a little jumpy, a little antsy,” the manager said. “I think that comes with trying to do a little too much. And yesterday, we told him to slow down a little bit and he got a big hit for us in the eighth inning to get us going.
“Like I said, he’s really out there, he’s doing everything we ask him to do, he’s been a lot of fun, but this guy, for the most part has given us good at bats since he’s been here.
“So, now he’s going to have to do the same thing as a pinch hitter, and I think he’s going to be really good at it, because he works good at bats.”
Serving as a pinch hitter, likely in big spots, will Hernández potentially see more fastballs?
And how does Martinez want to see Hernández approach his pinch hit opportunities?
“For me, it’s all about, one as a pinch hitter you want to be aggressive,” he said. “You’re probably going to get either — the first two pitches are probably going to be the best pitches to hit.
“You also want to understand that hey, you’re coming up in a big moment, so you might get a curveball first pitch for a strike or a slider, or they might throw you a changeup, so you want to be aware of it. But you get one at bat and you make the best of it, but you want to be aggressive. That’s the same thing with [Andrew Stevenson]. We talk to Stevie all the time, that he’s a really good fastball hitter, and if he gets a fastball that he thinks he can hit, we want him to swing at it. More times than not he’s going to hit it and he’s going to hit it hard. So don’t just sit there and work counts when you’re coming up in a situation, be aggressive. You’re there to either start a big inning for us, or to drive in runs for us in a big moment.”