No Pressure, Juan Soto:
Juan Soto shared his initial reaction to the Washington Nationals’ trade deadline fire sale with Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty over the weekend in Atlanta, explaining in their conversation that the club’s decision to trade away eight players, (seven of them on expiring contracts, and one, Trea Turner, who had year-plus of team control left) shocked him, and was a lot to take in:
“I’m not going to lie — those first couple days, it was a lot,” Soto said in the visitors’ dugout at the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park on Friday. “Because everybody’s expecting a homer from me, saying: ‘This is your team. This is you, you, you, you, you.’ But, no, it’s not like that. We are a team and have to push in the same direction. Not just me — everyone.”
“It was weird, man. It’s crazy how everything changed,” he continued, nodding to the departures of Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Brad Hand, Yan Gomes, Daniel Hudson, Josh Harrison, Kyle Schwarber, and Jon Lester, all in 30 hours. “It’s so different for me. I always say I will be a rookie forever. But now everybody is looking at me like I’m the role model, and it just feels weird. I don’t want to feel that way. I want to still feel like I’m a rookie, but it is what it is. I just have to step it up and just keep playing baseball.”
Soto’s manager, Davey Martinez, told reporters several hours after the deadline passed that he spoke with the 22-year-old outfielder beforehand and prepared him for what would likely happen.
“I talked to him in Philly, actually, and told him that he just has to keep his head up and keep playing,” Martinez said.
“He’s the guy now that this organization is going to follow. So he just has to keep going out there and keep grinding his at bats like he always does, and play good defense, run the bases the way he’s supposed to run them, and stay positive and he understands that.”
Martinez’s wording, if not the messaging, changed fairly quickly, as he later stressed that Soto doesn’t have to be the guy, and just has to be a guy, something he’s reiterated often over the years.
He said much the same when asked about Soto’s reaction to the moves before the Nats and Mets resumed their suspended series opener in Citi Field on Wednesday afternoon.
“I had a good conversation with Soto,” Martinez said.
“Soto, as you know, he’s a very young player, we’ve had some success with him as a whole, as a team. This is something new to him.
“These are guys that he came up with, guys that he respected very much that got traded.
“At first, he didn’t understand it, and we spoke a lot about just him just continuing to do what he does, and that’s play baseball and have fun.”
The message he wanted to get across, he said, was that he doesn’t want Soto to do more than he’s been doing in an impressive first four seasons in the majors.
“I didn’t want him to think that he’s got to put this team on his shoulders,” Martinez said.
“Just go out there and just have fun and do the things that he’s been doing. And he said, you know, this is a time for other players to make a name for themselves just like the players that we lost, but he can go out there and really — the clubhouse now is — you see a lot of young guys, but he can really help some of these younger guys out by himself just by going out there and performing like he does, and showing these guys how to play up here. He’s been good. It took him a few days to adjust, just because everything is new and he’s never been through this before, but as you see yesterday, he came up, he was injured, he came up, said he’s good to play, comes up in a big situation, and hits a homer to left-center field.
“But that’s the kind of guy he is, and he loves to play. I don’t want people to think that, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be the guy, you’ve got to be the guy.’ He just has to be a guy on this club and continue to do what he does.”
Sam Clay To Triple-A:
In nine second-half appearances before he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester Wednesday afternoon, Sam Clay gave up seven hits (two HRs), five walks, and eight runs (six earned) in 5 1⁄3 IP (10.13 ERA), with opposing hitters putting up a .318/.444/.636 line against him in that stretch.
On the year, the 28-year-old lefty, who signed a major league deal with the Nationals this past winter, after six seasons in the minors with the Minnesota Twins, who drafted him in the 4th Round in 2014, had a 5.80 ERA, 4.91 FIP, 16 walks (4.04 BB/9), 25 Ks (6.31 K/9), and a .302/.382/.423 line against in 46 games and 35 2⁄3 IP.
“I talked to Sam Clay,” Martinez said after they sent him down and brought lefty Sean Nolin up from Triple-A.
“I talked to him just about attacking the strike zone. The walks with Sam were the big issue, and being more precise against left-handed hitters, knowing what he wants to do against left-handed hitters. We need him to get outs, especially against left-handed hitters.”
Left-handed hitters have a .261/.329/.362 line against Clay in 76 PAs this season, while right-handed hitters have a .338/.426/.475 line against him.
“He’s going to go down and work on some things. You haven’t seen the last of Sam. I know that. But he’ll work to get back up here and we’ll get him back up here as soon as we deem he’s ready.”
The plan for Clay is the same as the one they had for Tanner Rainey when he was optioned to Triple-A recently to get straightened out after an up-and-down, injury-plagued season in D.C., which is to have him pitch every other day and work on what he needs to while he’s in a less-stressful environment.
“I’ll talk to [Rochester pitching coach] Mike [Tejera] down there and get him on a schedule,” Martinez explained, “and then like I said, just hone in on him throwing strikes and getting outs. But I told him, for his first stint in the big leagues, he did fine, he really did. And like I said, he’s another guy that we believe that he can help us in the future.”
Bullpen of the Future:
With Sam Clay, Tanner Rainey*, and Wander Suero at Triple-A when play resumed in NY on Wednesday afternoon, there were a number of new faces in Davey Martinez’s bullpen.
Gabe Klobosits, Andres Machado, Nolin, and Mason Thompson were the newest additions to the bullpen mix, giving Martinez an opportunity to see some arms that might be part of his relief corps going forward this season and beyond.
“I think things are looking bright,” the fourth-year skipper said. “I mean, like I said, they’re still going, they’re going to get their bumps and bruises as we always talk about and I talk about with them, but we got some guys with some good arms down there right now and they’re getting an opportunity to come and pitch in the big leagues for us and they’re doing well, so we’ll continue to bring them through this and hopefully they continue to do well.
“My biggest thing is that they have some form of success early, they build confidence, and we watch them continue to build that confidence.”
Clay, Rainey, and Suero are getting time to sort things out, as mentioned, and the younger arms are getting a taste of what’s it like pitching in the majors after working their way up.
“I wanted to make sure that Tanner gets stretched out a little bit more, and he did that, and also too, to see what we have for the future next year and going forward.
“We traded for Mason, who’s done a great job up here so far, and Klobosits, who is actually — did well in Double-A got moved up to Triple-A and did well. So we wanted to see him up here as well to see what we have for the future.
“These guys have done fine. We know what Rainey is capable of doing, he’s done it in the past. With Rainey it’s just been an up and down year with him because on injuries.
“He feels like he’s healthy now. He’s throwing the ball well down in Triple-A, so we’ll get him back up here and see what he can do.”*
[ed. note - “ * = it sounded like Martinez was suggesting that Rainey would be back up and before the scheduled nightcap of the doubleheader in Citi Field, he was called back up as the 27th man for the Nationals.”]
Two of the Nationals’ new bullpen arms, Klobosits and Thompson struggled in Wednesday’s game, with Klobosits giving up two hits and a run in the seventh, before the Mets scored a couple runs, one earned, on Thompson in the eighth, taking the lead in what ended up an 8-7 win for the home team.
Thompson, who had the tying run score on an error on a throw to first base on a bunt, then gave up the go-ahead run on a weak fly that just cleared the infield said he’d try to look at his disappointing outing as a learning experience.
“Yeah, absolutely I think that’s the goal for everybody, at any stage, if you have an outing or an at bat that doesn’t go your way, obviously our goal is to learn from it and then from there, keep working and hopefully put ourselves in a position where we can overcome that the next time.”
His manager took the same view of the late-game struggles.
“I saw some guys battle through some adversity and get through it,” Martinez said. “I know Klobo, he gave up a run, but I saw him battle through and get some big outs.
“And then Thompson, other than the throw to first base, he jammed some pretty good hitters and really threw the ball well. I was encouraged by that. Like I said, there’s going to be some bumps and bruises on the way, but I still like the way they’re throwing the ball and I relayed that to Mason. I said, ‘Hey, you threw the ball good. You got one ball out over the plate down to [J.D.] Davis, where he likes it, but you learned, and he actually came up to me and he said, ‘I need to get that ball in, or up,’ and I said, ‘Exactly.’ So they’re learning. I like that out of those guys.”