NEW YORK -- Be alert. Stay patient. Then pounce when the time is right.
Shortly before Juan Soto flew to New York to take on the Mets in a three-game series at Citi Field, he reflected on his plate approach after walloping his hardest-hit home run on Thursday against the Marlins.
“I’ve just got to keep myself in the strike zone, try to look for a specific pitch,” Soto said. “If they don’t do that, just walk. But if they throw it, just try not to miss it.”
Soto used that mentality in Sunday’s 9-4 loss to the Mets when he belted his 22nd home run of the season in his third plate appearance of the afternoon.
He drew Majors-leading walks Nos. 101 and 102 of the year in back-to-back four-pitch plate appearances (a total of five fastballs and three changeups) facing Tylor Megill. Then, when he saw a sinker from Aaron Loup on the fifth pitch of his sixth-inning at-bat, Soto lifted it a Statcast-projected 401 feet out to left-center field.
“I just tried to be aggressive,” Soto said. “I think [Megill] has a pretty good fastball to hit and I was just ready, waiting for a mistake, but he just didn’t want to play. He just went around and tried to walk me.
“Then, in the other at-bat, I know [Loup] has a pretty good sinker and pretty good stuff, and he’s been doing great this year. So I just tried to put the ball in play, just tried to get contact and tried to see where I can go, and tried to wait for the mistake. He missed right down the middle and I made the contact.”
The poise Soto is displaying in his fourth season at only 22 years old doesn’t surprise Nationals manager Dave Martinez. He recalled one of the first times he watched Soto play when he noticed the outfielder's understanding of the strike zone and his willingness to wait.
“He swung at a ball that bounced in the dirt,” Martinez said. “He stepped back, he got back in the at-bat and a guy tried to throw him the same pitch twice, and he took them. Then he got the ball out over the plate and hit a double to left-center field. I said, ‘This kid, if he continues to do what he’s doing, he’s going to be a good player, a good hitter.’ And obviously you see what he’s done already.”
Fellow home run-hitting teammate Josh Bell -- who smacked his 22nd and 23rd dingers of the season on Sunday -- has been impressed by Soto’s patience. He specifically noted Soto’s chase rate, which leads all players at 15.4%.
“To have that discipline to not jump, to not go out of his slug zones and to wait for his pitch -- I know he takes his chances here and there -- his chase rate is top in the game because that’s just who he is,” Bell said. “He’s not wavering from it. He knows himself, and it’s awesome to see for such a young cat. Can’t wait to watch him grow up and see what he does next.”
If this pace continues, Soto could close in on the Nationals’ team record for most walks drawn in a season: 130 by Bryce Harper in 2018.
“Whenever they want to play, I play,” Soto said. “When they don’t want to play, I just take my walk.”
For Soto, the knock marked his 10th home run in 27 games played at Citi Field, including the two longest homers of his career. The National League East foes will face off again next weekend for five games in four days at Nationals Park.