Juan Soto had fun in Atlanta. Through the first three games of the series, the 22-year-old slugger was 5 for 9, with two home runs, four walks, and just two strikeouts in 13 plate appearances. Soto was struggling to get elevation coming into the series, but he figured a couple things out and started swinging it like he used to swing it.
“We’ve been working on the last couple days, just try to put the ball in the air,” Soto said after his three-hit game on Tuesday night in Truist Park.
“Try to hit the ball, square up and put it in the air is coming through right now and it feels great.”
Soto missed 10 games in late April/early May with a left shoulder issue, and it took a while for him to find his swing again, but he’s slowly but surely been returning to the form from his first three big league seasons.
“I felt good at the plate,” Soto said after Tuesday’s win. “I felt good with my at bats. Starting to see a lot of the fruit of my labor working with the coaching staff, the work is paying off, so that’s good to see.”
His specific focus in recent work has been getting his bat head out to meet the ball farther out in front of the plate.
“I’ve been trying to lift the ball a little bit more,” Soto explained.
“Make hard contact as usual, but in the last few days, it’s been more of a focus of trying to get my bat head out in front and get some lift behind the ball and basically carry a little bit more.”
It’s carrying. His two home runs in Atlanta were 409 and 437 foot blasts to just about the same spot to the left of center field in Truist Park, both off of left-handed pitchers.
“He’s really on time,” manager Davey Martinez said after Wednesday’s game. “And I’m just watching where his contact point is and it’s right where it needs to be. So, like I said, it’s really good right now, so hopefully he stays that way. He’s in a good spot right now, he’s getting ready, he’s taking pitches the way he’s supposed to and he’s getting ready to hit the fastball early.”
Soto’s also really enjoyed himself in a crowded Truist Park, where the Nationals played in front of packed houses for the first time this season (and since 2019, really).
Soto heard a bit of chatter from the crowd, who chanted that he was underrated at one point, he did that little Ronald Acuña, Jr. toe tap thing rounding third in Tuesday’s game, and he talked afterwards about how he deals with the taunts from opposing fans.
“I mean, every time we’re on the road I know I get a lot of stuff in right field, they talk a lot of things down there,” Soto said. “I just try to pay attention to the game, sometimes they just make me laugh. I don’t care what they say, I just really concentrate on the game, I just try to enjoy the game and do whatever I can, every negative comment I just try to put it out of my head and just keep my focus on the game.”
His manager likes what he’s seen from the locked-in outfielder in Atlanta.
“I watched his swing last night again,” Martinez said on Wednesday night.
“And his bat is staying in the zone like he used to be for a very long time, and he’s catching the ball a little bit more out front. So I think you’re seeing Juan being Juan and it’s good to see.”
Martinez also said he likes to see the way Soto handles the taunting he does hear from the opposing crowds when the Nationals are on the road.
“He loves it,” Martinez said. “He said the boos are part of it. It doesn’t bother him a bit. But he loves it. The funniest story about that is we go to New York, and he’s playing really well, and he got up there and they booed him about as loud as I’ve heard, honestly, and he came back and the first at bat he struck out and he comes back and he goes, ‘I like it.’ And I go, ‘You like what?’ He goes, ‘I like the boos.’ And he said, ‘Watch my next at bat.’”
The game Martinez is referring to, was an August 2019 matchup with the Mets in Citi Field.
“And his next at bat he comes up and he hits the ball 450 feet. And he comes back, ‘I told you I like it.’ So he feeds off of that, he really does.
“As I always say, he’s a different kid. He loves the big moments, he loves to play the game and he loves to win.”
After walking in ea—
“I remember it was against [Marcus] Stroman,” Martinez said, jumping back into his Soto anecdote.
“We were facing Stroman. It was a whole big thing. Stroman did the little — how he does the little shimmy after he struck him out, and he hit the home run, he comes back, he touches home plate and if you notice, [Soto] did a little shimmy back. It was pretty cool.”
With the Acuña, Jr. toe taps, the Stroman shimmy, and that whole Alex Bregman carry your bat to first thing we saw in the 2019 World Series, the mimicry is becoming something of a thing for Soto...