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Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto still searching for swing

Juan Soto hit a big home run in Sunday’s game, and he’s hoping it’s the start of something...

Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Juan Soto went 0 for 12 with a walk and two Ks in the first three games with the Philadelphia Phillies in the recently-completed five-game series in Washington, D.C., but he snapped a four-game hitless streak overall on Saturday, going 1 for 2 with two walks, and wrapped the long weekend up with a 1 for 5 game and a three-run home run in the finale on Sunday.

The 428-foot blast to right field in Nationals Park was Soto’s 14th of 2022, and his fifth in 17 games in a month of June, which has seen the 23-year-old go 10 for 62 (161/.316/.419).

He has a very un-Soto-like .218/.367/.440 line over 68 games and 300 plate appearances on the year, but his manager said after Sunday’s win he saw the home run as a positive sign of the progress Soto is making as he struggles to find his stroke.

“He stayed back, he was aggressive, and for me he stayed on top of the ball well,” Davey Martinez told reporters after the Nationals’ one win in five games with the Phillies. “That’s, for me, that’s who Juan is, so when he does that he’s going to hit the ball hard, so it was a good swing. Well-needed. Those were a big three runs for us right there, so we got to continue to get him going. Like I said, you don’t really see him ever in a slump. You look up there, and his OPS is over .800 [.807 as of Monday], he’s walking every game, so, but it’s his two-strike approach, all that stuff, we got to continue to tell him to stay on the ball and try to hit the ball the other way, especially with guys on base.”

Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Soto is 22 for 102 with men on so far in 2022 (.216/.344/.382). He’s 7 for 52 (.135/.286/.250) with runners in scoring position on the year, which, for a hitter with a .285/.454/.512 career line with RISP, is startling, but he’s still searching at the plate three months into his fifth big league season.

He still leads the majors in walks, with 55 (versus 46 Ks), but he’s not hitting those pitches he gets to hit and it’s frustrating for the young slugger.

“I’m feeling pretty good, my swings feel very on time,” Soto said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato. “I’ve just been missing a couple balls and just taking a couple pitches that I shouldn’t take.”

As for an explanation? Soto’s at a loss to explain his struggles.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what is going on. It’s just been up and down the whole year. But at the end of the day, I’m going to figure it out.”

“He’s starting to pull off,” Martinez told reporters. “I think he’s trying to do too much again. We’ve got to get him back to stay really in the middle of the field and stay on top of the baseball. He’s getting underneath a lot of balls, and that’s because he’s opening up a little bit.”

Soto told reporters on Sunday, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, he hoped the big home run would help him get back on track.

“It’s like a flush,” he said. “It’s like you flush your mind, your body, everything. You just feel amazing. Your work is coming through, and you just feel amazing when you see the ball flying like that.”

Washington Nationals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

In spite of his struggles, Martinez said after the finale with the Phillies nothing had really changed for the Soto, who is still putting in the work so he can start turning it around.

“He’s been good. Like I said, the kid comes every day to play baseball. He loves the game, he loves his teammates. He’s working hard. I say it all the time, his routine has not changed one bit. When he was the Silver Slugger winner, to now hitting .230 or whatever he’s hitting, nothing changes with him, he comes in, he does his routine, he gets ready for the game.”

The high walk rate hasn’t changed either, but Martinez stressed, as he has before, that he doesn’t want Soto going up to the plate expecting walks.

“We want him to swing the bat,” Martinez said. “The walks are going to come. I don’t want him to think about walking, walking. I want him to hit first, walk second.”