Juan Soto started the series in Miami as the only qualified player in Major League Baseball with more walks than Ks in 2021, with 124 walks, a career-high for the 22-year-old, and just 83 Ks in 138 games and 591 plate appearances, over which he had a .315/.459/.531 line, 18 doubles, and 26 home runs.
His .315 AVG was the NL’s second-best, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Trea Turner (.316). His OBP (.459) was the the National League’s best. His SLG (.531) ranked eighth.
[ed. note - “Updated stats after the Nationals’ loss to the Marlins last night: .315/.461/.530, good for 2nd/1st/8th across the line.”]
Soto’s 124 walks were seven, “shy of the Nationals record for most walks in a season,” set by Bryce Harper, who walked 130 times in 2018, and Soto has accepted his walks and come to terms with how opposing teams choose to approach him.
“I just try to be patient, wait for my pitch, and just try to keep taking my walks,” Soto said in a post game Zoom call on Sunday, after going 1 for 4 with a 454-foot home run to right field in Nationals Park.
“Like I’ve said before,” he added. “If they don’t want to play, I just walk to first. If they want to play, then we go and play.”
As he saw it, Soto said, he was getting more pitches to hit since he was facing teams he did not see as often, and in part because Josh Bell had been on quite a run at the plate, putting up a .330/.455/.615 line, five doubles, seven home runs, 18 RBIs, 21 walks, and just 12 Ks in a total of 112 plate appearances over the past 25 games.
“We’ve been playing the last couple days with teams that we’re not used to playing a lot,” Soto explained, “and they’ve been attacking the strike zone, they’ve been trying to [get] me out. One thing that I like is that they’re coming right at me. They don’t try to walk me or anything like that, and I know Josh is getting better, he’s getting locked in, so that might be another thing, that’s why they’re coming right at me too, because he’s getting better and better, and he’s swinging the bat much better.”
So teams that don’t see him too often haven’t raised the white flag yet?
“I don’t face those guys that much,” Soto said after a 3 for 9 three-game series against the Colorado Rockies in which he took four walks and hit a double and the 454-foot home run.
“But that’s one thing, another thing is that JB is doing better,” Soto reiterated.
“Whenever he’s locked in at the plate, and he’s ready, I know I’m going to get some pitches.
“So I’m just going to be ready, I hope he keeps going, and let’s see how it goes after this month.”
To be where he is now, statistically, after a relatively slow start in which he struggled to get the ball in the air for a time, and had an issue with his shoulder, is the result of a lot work at the plate.
“I mean, it’s always good to have good numbers,” Soto acknowledged.
“Like I said, all the guys, everybody was going crazy — oh, I’m going down or whatever, and I just said, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, so that’s why I keep my mindset and just come down, just keep playing baseball, and just have fun because the numbers are going to be there, so just try to enjoy it day-by-day.”
Soto’s manager said before Monday’s game that he really hasn’t noticed teams approaching Soto and differently recently, but he saw the outfielder doing what he always does.
“No. It’s the same,” Martinez said. “Soto is Soto. He’s going to take his walks, he’s going to get ready to hit, he’s going to do anything he can to help us win.
“But Soto has his own approach, which I love, and I talk to a lot of the young hitters about watching him, and watching how he gets ready, and how he gets ready for every pitch.”
“I talked to Riley Adams today, and he really watches Soto a lot, and how he gets ready in the batter’s box. And he’s really trying to do the same thing when he goes up there to hit. So, it’s good to see some of these young players watching a guy like Juan, who every pitch he’s engaged, he’s ready, he hits the ball hard quite often, but yet, the biggest thing, like I told Riley, and just like he does, you go up there and you take your walks, get a pitch that you think you can drive in the zone, and be ready for it, and Riley does a good job with that, Riley takes his walks.”
So having Soto as a role model and building block for the rebooting club is going well early in the process?
“He’s been awesome,” Martinez said.
“And as you can see, he’s taken off. I mean, my biggest thing with him is, hey, ‘Remember, you’re going to have a lot of young kids watching you, and trying to emulate you on this team. And just you be you. And just go out there and have fun like you always do, and enjoy the game.’ And I ask him all the time, ‘What is it about this game?’ and he’ll tell me, he says, ‘I love it. I love playing. I love everything about it.’ And I said, ‘Just you be you, that’s all you can do.’”