MRI on Soto's left elbow comes back clean

September 5th, 2020

The Nationals were without left fielder for their doubleheader against the Braves at Truist Park on Friday because of left elbow soreness. Soto was scratched from the lineup in Game 1, a 7-1 loss, and he also didn't play in Game 2, a 10-9 victory.

“He got an MRI, everything came out clean,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We’re going to give him a couple days. He’s pretty tender. It’s his throwing elbow, so we’re going to see how it feels tomorrow and then go from there. I’m assuming he’s going to need a couple days off.”

Soto’s elbow felt stiff when he woke up on Friday morning, Martinez said. The discomfort was not attributed to a specific moment in a game. Martinez expects Soto will be day to day as he recovers. The slugging lefty is batting .354 and leads the Nationals in home runs (11) and RBIs (26).

Utility man Josh Harrison started in place of Soto in both games of the doubleheader. He exited Game 2 in the second inning after being hit by a 95.2 mph fastball from Braves starter Huascar Ynoa. X-rays and an MRI revealed a contusion on Harrison’s left forearm. 

“We got lucky on that one because he got hit pretty good,” Martinez said. 

Brock Holt finished out the game in left field.

A step behind
Last season, Victor Robles and Soto were named National League Gold Glove Award finalists in recognition of their prowess in center field and left field, respectively. This year, manager Dave Martinez has seen a difference in their defense.

“Noticeably, their first step hasn’t been as good as it previously was,” Martinez said on Friday. “It’s something we need to work on. Hopefully, it gets better.”

Robles stood out last season with a Major League-leading 23 Outs Above Average over 155 games. In 31 appearances this year, he is at zero. Soto finished at six Outs Above Average in 150 games in 2019, compared to minus-two in his first 27 games in '20.

In 2019, Soto’s reaction of 1.4 feet above average (sixth best among all outfielders) was the most important part of his overall jump, which tracked at 1.1 feet above average. Robles’ reaction of 0.3 feet above average ranked 32nd among all outfielders, while his burst (1.2 feet above average) was more important to his overall jump. 2020 jump stats are not yet available.

“That first step is crucial, it really is,” Martinez said. “That first step in your jump dictates whether you’re going to get to the ball or not, to me. I played out there for 17 years. The only thing I’ve ever worked on is my first step and getting behind the baseball at all times.”

The entire season for Robles and Soto has been a few steps behind. Both players were delayed in starting Summer Camp workouts, and Soto was placed on the COVID-19 injured list on Opening Day. The left fielder did not make his season debut until Aug. 5.

The Nationals advised them not to try to do too much too soon, cautiously trying to avoid injuries as the players ramped up on a delayed schedule. Taking analytics into account, the team has made adjustments for Robles and Soto to play a few steps deeper in the outfield.

Robles also is adjusting to a new physique. Martinez estimates Robles put on 10 pounds of muscle, and he is trying to find his flexibility and agility with a more bulked-up frame. The Nats gave Robles two games off this week against the Phillies to rest after Martinez thought his legs looked “heavy.”

“It’s just been a weird year for these guys,” Martinez said. “I know they’re doing the best they can, that’s for sure. We’re putting them in spots where all our analytics say to play. Last year, they were really good. This year, I think we’re struggling out there, and we’ve just got to get better at it.”

Kieboom joins taxi squad
The Nationals added third baseman Carter Kieboom to their taxi squad for their four-game series in Atlanta. The team’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, was optioned to the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., on Aug. 26 after struggling this season.

“Just to kind of get him back here and watch his swing, see where he’s at,” Martinez said of the decision. “He’ll be here for the weekend.”