Soto Back At No. 2:
You may have noticed how Juan Soto, who hit second for the first seven or so weeks this season, then hit third in the Nationals’ lineup in 23 of 24 games between May 22nd-June 17th, moved back up to the two-hole during the series with the Phillies in D.C. last week.
He stayed there for both games in Baltimore and all three in Texas this weekend.
Manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame press conference with reporters before the finale with the Rangers, he made the decision after Soto was left on deck during one of their losses to Philadelphia.
Soto was on deck in June 17th’s 5-3 loss to the Phillies, watching while César Hernández K’d swinging with two runners on to end the game in the first of two that day.
In the nightcap of the doubleheader in the nation’s capital, Soto was back hitting second.
“I think — for me, we’re getting all these numbers periodically, and analytically the numbers suggest that our best hitter should hit two,” Martinez said. “[Soto] gets a lot of opportunities with guys on base, and that’s kind of where I want him. The other thing, like I said, you know, it happened again where he was on deck, but we couldn’t get him up there, and I don’t want that to happen. I want him — if we have a chance to win a game, I want him up, and not on deck.”
Now, some of you might be thinking: Is Soto the best hitter on the team right now? His line going into the series finale in Texas (.215/.362/.434) might argue otherwise, but yes, he is.
Getting Soto consistent RBI opportunities will pay off when/if he starts hitting with RISP this season, but going into the 3rd of 3 with the Rangers in Arlington, Soto was 7 for 56 for a not so good .125/.269/.232 line in 67 PAs with RISP on the season, with two home runs, 11 walks, 15 Ks, and 16 RBIs on the season.
While Soto’s shown glimpses of being the hitter who (still) has a .282/.451/.507 line w/ RISP three months into his fifth big league campaign in spite of the damage he’s done to his line early this season, Martinez said he wants the now-23-year-old slugger to relax and approach at-bats with runners in scoring position the same as every other one.
“The biggest thing for me with him is accept his walks, which he’s done well. Not chase,” the manager said. “I think when we get runners in scoring position he chases a little bit more than he normally does, and we got to get him to just relax and control the strike zone, and the biggest thing for him when he does get a ball where he can hit, he puts a good swing on the ball and you see that, you’re seeing that sometimes when he just goes up there and he just relaxes, he’s got no pressure on driving in runs and he hits the ball well.
“So, we want him just to take the same approach when there’s guys on base, and just try to get a hit, not try to do too much.”
Soto went 1 for 1 with a single, four walks, and two runs scored in the Nationals’ 6-4 win over the Rangers in the finale in Globe Life Field.
Did you know that Juan Soto walked more than he K'd in 2021? #Itstrue. With his 4th walk of the day today in TX, Soto is up to 61 BB vs 48 Ks in 320 PAs in 2022.— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) June 26, 2022
“I would like him to walk a couple times and hit the ball a few times,” Martinez joked in his post game press conference, “... but he’s going to take his walks, and that’s — when he’s taking his walks I know he’s ready to hit. So, he’s seeing the ball. He got on base for us and the other guys, [Nelson Cruz - 2 for 5, 3 RBIs) and Josh [Bell - 3 for 5, 2 R, RBI], picked us up big time today, they hit the ball well.”
Lane Thomas, in 21 games in June (19 starts) heading into yesterday’s series finale in Texas, was 23 for 77 on the month (.299/.372/.546) with four doubles, five home runs, nine walks, and 17 Ks in 86 PAs, and he’d moved around the Nationals’ lineup, batting second, leading off, hitting seventh, ninth, fifth, and sixth. His manager, who has moved him around in this stretch, was asked if he sees (or wants) the 26-year-old outfielder changing his approach at any of the different spots?
“For me, I just want him to be aggressive on fastballs, but he hits fastballs well, or balls in the zone, we’re trying to get him away from hitting with two strikes all the time, that’s the biggest thing for me,” Martinez explained.
Does Thomas, when he’s leading off, tend to take a more patient approach, to see pitches, and show his teammates some too, rather than attacking fastballs early in the count as his manager would like him to?
“I talk to him throughout the day,” Martinez said, “I’ll talk to him right before he goes up to hit, to be aggressive, get a ball in the zone where you can hit and be ready to hit it.”
Keibert Ruiz got a day off in the series finale in Texas, after starting each of the first two with the Rangers this past weekend, and going 2 for 7 with a double and a walk.
In the month of June overall, however, the 23-year-old backstop was struggling at bit at the plate, going 14 for 66 (.212/.268/.303) with three doubles, a home run, five walks, and eight Ks in 71 PAs.
His manager said this past Saturday he wanted to see the young catcher more aggressive at the plate.
“Keibert sometimes he wants to see pitches,” the manager explained, “... but I tell him, I say, ‘Honestly, you’re not that guy.’
“‘You’re the type that if you get a pitch in the strike zone, swing at it. You’ve got great bat-to-ball skills. I don’t want you sitting and hitting with two strikes. This game is hard enough. All of a sudden you’re up there with two strikes, it’s tough, because you’re swinging at bad balls.’
“I want these guys to be aggressive. Look, when they’re aggressive in the zone, they hit the ball hard.
“There’s a reason why we’re hitting for average [as a team], but now, I told them, now when you’re early in the count, and when you’re in hitters’ counts, you can get your best A-swing off at fastballs, even breaking balls, but you’ve got to be ready to hit them.”
Martinez said with Ruiz, in particular, who has an advanced ability to barrel the ball up in or out of the zone, he’d like to see the switch hitter getting his A-swing off more often.
“It’s funny, because we talk a lot about that in our meetings, and yeah, sometimes he gets caught up in trying to stay to left-center field,” Martinez said. “For me, when you’re left-handed, for me your best swing is almost staying to right-center field, because, one, you stay on top of the ball a lot better, and two, you’re not trying to hit the ball — sometimes he tries to hit the ball to left field and he gets underneath it, and I tell him all the time, ‘If you think to hit the ball to right-center field, if you’re a little late, your barrel still stays through the zone and you’ll hit it to left-center, so don’t be so conscious of — you know, and a lot of times, it’s based on, ‘Hey, see the ball, and just react to it and hit it.’ Don’t worry about where it goes or whatever, just get your best swing off and see what happens.”