Juan Soto’s leadoff double in the bottom of the eighth on Tuesday night split the right-center field gap and got to the wall before the Toronto Blue Jays’ center fielder Randall Grichuk got to it.
It came off the bat at 116.6 MPH (exit velocity), which, Baseball Savant says, was the eighth-hardest hit ball of the season as of Wednesday morning, and the hardest-hit ball of Soto’s career.
“As soon as it came off the bat we knew it was hit really hard,” Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said before the second of two with the Jays in D.C. on Wednesday.
“But he can do those things. I mean ... his swing, when he gets to a ball the way he did last night he can hit the ball hard. But you know, the fact that he stayed to right-center field is once again a testament to how good he is in the middle of the field, he doesn’t try to do a whole lot, like I said, every day I talk to him he wants to hit four line drives up the middle as hard as he can, and he stays with that, so it’s good to see him stay behind the ball, especially against a lefty [Tayler Saucedo], and drive the ball to right-center field like that.”
The fact that Soto got something to hit might be the most surprising thing about that hit, with the 22-year-old slugger getting pitched around often in August, taking 17 walks in 53 plate appearances on the month (.547 OBP) after Tuesday’s game, while going 11 for 34 (.324 AVG) with three doubles, and a home run in 14 games before the 2nd of two with Toronto in Washington, D.C., but as his manager said before the series finale, Soto’s taking his walks and patiently waiting until he gets something in the zone.
“We’ve talked a lot about the kind of hitter he is, and what makes him really successful is not to chase, and taking his walks,” Martinez explained.
“Unfortunately it’s happened a lot, but he is accepting it, he is taking it, and the key for him now is like I always tell him, ‘Hey be ready to hit every pitch, and when you do get a ball you think you can hit be ready for it,’ and they’ve been so [few and] far in-between and he has been pitched a lot on the corners, so you know he’s just got to be ready for that one opportunity where he gets a ball to hit like he did yesterday and stay on it and hit it well.
“He understands who he is and part of his process and part of what he’s really good at is accepting his walks.”
On the season, Soto had taken a league-leading 89 walks going into Wednesday’s game, tied for the lead in the majors with Joey Gallo, and he was, “the only player in the majors with more walks than strikeouts on the season, leading the majors with a 1.22 BB/SO ratio (89 BB/73 SO),” as the Nationals mentioned in their pregame notes.
Martinez did say, however, that he thinks Soto can be a little more aggressive at times if he stays disciplined at the plate, after taking a couple called third strikes in recent games that were on the low corner outside.
“We talk a lot about that. He has such a good eye that — but sometimes with two strikes, hey, for me, when I played I didn’t leave it up to the umpire. I mean, I was either going to foul that ball off or try to put it in play and get to the next pitch. He’s got to be aware — with two strikes sometimes, you may have to expand the strike zone a little bit and like I said, try to either, like I said, either spoil that pitch and get to the next one, or he’s so good that he can barrel up balls that are two or three inches outside or inside, but he’s just got be conscious — but the fact that he does know the strike zone so well is good, is really good for him, because like I said, he does take pitches where I’m sitting in the dugout and I can’t tell where they are, but they are balls, and umpires do call them balls, but he’s really good at it.”
In Wednesday’s game, Soto stepped up for the first time against Blue Jays’ starter José Berríos with two runners on in front of him in the bottom of the first and hit a 2-0 sinker belt-high outside to left on a line and over the wall for a three-run blast and a 3-0 lead.
It was Soto’s 20th of the season, and he took his 90th, 91st, and 92nd walks of the season in his next three plate appearances, as the Jays decided to just pitch around him.
After the third of the three walks, Josh Bell hit a three-run home run that ended up being the game-winning hit in an 8-5 win.
As for the home run that Soto hit on Wednesday, he got a pitch to hit for a change, he was ready for it, and he did not miss.
“Absolutely,” Martinez said after the game.
“He did a great job today where he was ready every pitch. A couple times he got to 3-0 and he really felt like — one time I talked to him he said he didn’t want to swing at that pitch, that ball is not where he wants it, which is awesome to hear him say that, and he worked good counts today.”