Juan Soto Drama Continues:
Juan Soto reportedly turning down a 15-year/$440M extension offer from Washington set off a firestorm of stories about the Nationals now considering trading their 23-year-old for prospects and major league-ready talent, with two and half years left before he becomes a free agent. Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo stated clearly in early June the club would not be trading the right fielder in D.C., but if the latest reporting is to be believed, the front office in the nation’s capital might have changed their mind(s) with all that’s gone on since the first report of the latest offer being turned down (and dismissed by Soto’s agent, Scott Boras).
Soto, who was peppered with questions about his future during last Monday’s All-Star media availability in LA, faced even more questions after he won the HR Derby, and he handled it all as well as can be expected, telling reporters he was going to let his agent answer questions about his contract status while he stayed focused on playing the game.
“I just let my agent do whatever they needs to do. All the conversations that they have, they are going to have them with him. I’m just going to be here to play baseball. I’m just going to go to Nationals Park and give my hundred percent every day,” Soto said.
Before Sunday’s game in Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, where Washington opened up the second-half of the 2022 campaign, manager Davey Martinez checked in with his slugger to make sure his head was in the right place heading towards the trade deadline, August 2nd.
“I like to talk to him, especially this time of year, with everything going on and just making sure that he’s engaged and relaxed and just goes out there and plays baseball,” Martinez explained, noting it was just a general conversation.
The fifth-year manager said he thought Soto handled himself well in LA, and has taken it all in stride while things have picked up for him on the field following a slow (by his own high standards) start at the plate this season.
“He’s good,” Martinez told reporters. “Yesterday was a perfect example: He was rooting his teammates on the whole game, and cheering and stuff, just I know for a young player in this situation, it can be tough, and I just want to make sure that, ‘Hey, you can only control what you can control, so just go out there and continue to play hard and do what you can to help us win.’”
“Like I’ve said before, for me he’s a Washington National. That’s the way I see him, and that’s the way I’ll see him until otherwise. But I love him. And like I said, he’s one of the best young hitters in the game,” the skipper added at another point.
“It’s a testament to who he is,” Martinez said of the way Soto has handled himself over the last few weeks, “because we were at the All-Star Game and all these rumblings came out and as you can see, he handled it professionally, and he went out and did what he needed to do. He competed in the HR Derby and won through all this stuff, so he gets it. and I know it’s — sometimes as a player you wonder what’s next, but he actually — he’s been focusing on staying in the moment, and that’s the biggest thing I try to tell him, is just be here now, and don’t worry about anything else, and just get ready to play the game today.”
Hernández Still Searching For No. 1 of 2022:
At this point last season, (July 24th), César Hernández had 16 home runs in 93 games and 408 plate appearances, but he entered play on Sunday this year homer-less over his 95 games and 412 PAs, which his manager, Davey Martinez, said he was afraid might be really weighing on the infielder who signed a $1-year/$4M free agent deal with the Nationals this past winter.
“Yeah, I worry a little bit,” Martinez acknowledged. “Sometimes I hear rumblings of him talking that if he hits the ball hard he thought maybe that ball should have gone out, and I said, ‘But hey, all you can do is hit the ball hard. Don’t worry about hitting home runs.’ For him, if he can just focus on staying in the middle of the field, he’ll hit some doubles, you know, so that to me is the key, just stay in the middle of the field and just try to drive the baseball.”
Hernández went into the All-Star break in an offensive slump, and with a .127/.203/.175 line in 18 games played this month, he’d gone from .264/.322/.331 line at the end of June down to .241/.302/.305 before the start of play on Sunday.
“You know, he started off really well, hitting the ball,” Martinez said. “We knew that he’s a guy that swings the bat, but he gets on base, and he hits the ball hard, and I know, if you look at all of his at-bats, he’s had some rough luck. He’s hit some balls hard.
“He’s struggled as of late, but you know he’s a guy that we count on to kind of get on base for us still, so he’s not your typical leadoff guy, but he’s a switch-hitter that can put the ball in play.”
Martinez said Hernández was working to turn things around and talked about adjustments the club wanted to see.
“For me, it’s getting ready on time. Staying on top of the baseball, and being early. He’s been late a lot, and he’s been getting underneath the baseball, so we’re trying to get him on time, trying to get him to stay back, you know, here’s a guy that we know he’s hit a bunch of home runs last year. He hasn’t hit any this year, and I think it’s getting it a little frustrating for him, but I told him, I said, ‘Hey, look all you can do is try to hit the ball hard and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Whether it’s been Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams, as it was for the first few months this year, or Ruiz and Tres Barrera, who are handling the Nationals’ catching duties right now, it’s not the way things were in previous seasons when Washington relied on veteran backstops like Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes to handle most of the work behind the plate. So how does the Nats’ skipper assess the job his young catchers have done thus far in 2022?
“It’s been good,” he said on Saturday. “Reason being that we still have [Catching & Strategy Coach] Henry [Blanco] here, right? Henry has been so good with these guys and teaching them to game-call and what to look for, and preparation, all that stuff, Henry is on top of those guys every single day, so between him, [Bullpen Coach] Ricky [Bones], [Pitching Coach] Jim Hickey, because they’re also involved not only with the pitching, but the catching as well, so these guys need to absorb everything they tell them, because there’s a world of knowledge with these guys, having them here, and having them teach them the game the way it’s supposed to be played and the way they’re supposed to be catching, and every pitcher is different, right? Every pitcher is not the same, so they’re learning, they’re learning a lot, they’re learning on the fly, we’ve had a lot of pitchers come in and out and they’ve got to learn those guys right away, but they’ve been doing really well.”
Martinez said the relationship between Ruiz and Blanco has been a really important one in the catcher’s development.
“He’s been really good,” the manager said.
“It’s almost like they’ve got a father/son relationship, because Henry gets on him, and Keibert is not afraid to give back neither, so it has been pretty cool to watch those two guys work together, but Henry, like I said, he wants these guys to be successful. He doesn’t try to make them a clone of him, he tries to take whoever they are and make them better at what they are, so it’s been a really good relationship between those guys.”