It took some convincing, but the Washington Nationals’ brass had the data to back them up, and with analytics on their side, manager Davey Martinez talked to Juan Soto about the plan to have him hit second in the lineup this season.
“I got to sell him on it,” Martinez said, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty last month.
“He likes hitting third. I think he thinks by getting those two guys on, he has more chances [to drive runners in].”
When they looked at the numbers though, and showed Soto, they led with the obvious fact that he’s likely to get more at-bats as the No. 2 hitter.
“Last year there were 14 times when he was on deck and didn’t get that last at-bat,” Martinez explained, as quoted by the Associated Press.
“If he’s going to get an opportunity to hit again, you want him to hit.”
And if that didn’t convince Soto?
“I told him seven of the last 10 MVPs did hit second,” Martinez added.
Soto told reporters he is up for it if that’s what the team thinks is best.
“I am going to accept the challenge and see how it goes,” Soto told the AP. “It’s going to take a little bit to get used to it, but I think it’s going to be fine.”
Throughout the spring, Soto hit second with new addition Nelson Cruz hitting third after the veteran signed a 1-year free agent deal with the club once the 99-day lockout ended in mid-March when MLB and the MLBPA finally agreed on a new CBA.
Martinez told reporters after the DH signing in D.C. was announced, that Cruz will help to bolster the middle of the lineup in the nation’s capital, and provide some protection they think should help Soto, while also helping another big bat in the Nats’ lineup.
“You talk about Soto, you talk about Cruz, for me, the guy that to me who is really going to benefit and help too, is Josh Bell,” Martinez said.
“I mean, all of a sudden you put Josh Bell with these two guys, I think he’s going to get better. I really [do].
“[Bell] came to this Spring Training in such good shape and ready, and he looks great, so having those three guys in the middle of our lineup, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
And he does think Cruz will help protect Soto to some degree, after Soto was walked fairly regularly again in 2021, leading the big leagues in free passes on the year last season.
“I think he’s got pretty good — not pretty good, really good — protection,” Martinez said, as quoted by the AP.
“It’s going to be my new challenge for this year,” Soto told MLB Network host Alanna Rizzo of hitting second this spring. “I just got to get used to it, I never hit there before. I tried a couple times in years before, it feels kind of weird, but at the end of the day I’m going to [take] the challenge and see how it goes.”
Soto’s batting second with Cruz third and Bell in the cleanup spot for the season opener...