'Really crazy' week nearly done for Soto

Star's MLB-best 27-game on-base streak ends in loss to D-backs

July 24th, 2022

PHOENIX -- A long week for Juan Soto neared its conclusion, but not without marking the end of his career-best 27-game hitting streak. So, when the longest active stretch in the Major Leagues came to an end on Saturday with Soto's 0-for-4 performance against the D-backs, it resonated with the 23-year-old slugger. 

“[I had been paying attention to it] a lot. Until today,” Soto said. “It means a lot. I’ve been trying my best, working really hard to keep going every day. I just keep battling. It [doesn't] matter what the results [are] -- just come to grind everyday.”

On Saturday, Soto was stifled by veteran left-hander Madison Bumgarner in the Nationals’ 7-2 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field. He struck out twice and flew out against Bumgarner in his eight-inning outing, and then was fanned by Luke Weaver in the ninth -- Soto's first three-strikeout game of the season.

Of the 15 pitches Soto saw, 13 were fastballs and two were changeups. He had eight swings and four whiffs on the four-seamer.

“I don't know why I kept throwing him fastballs, but I did,” Bumgarner said. “After the first at-bat when he pulled the first one foul, my thought was, 'It's a strike,' but if you hit another one, then I'll say, 'That's pretty good,' and I'll change it up. 

“We just went at him. ... and then I just got stupid with it and kept going until it didn't work, but it worked tonight. And I know that's obviously not [usually] the approach to have against a player like that, but tonight it was."

It is an approach that wasn’t guaranteed to work, given how hot Soto has been hitting. During his 27-game streak, he tallied a .496 on-base percentage with 28 hits and 27 walks. That doesn’t include the homers he mashed on Monday to win the 2022 T-Mobile Home Run Derby.

But for all of the success Soto has had at the plate recently, he also has had the blaring buzz of trade speculation since last Saturday after turning down a 15-year, $440 million extension. He described this week, which included fielding questions at the All-Star Game, “Crazy, really crazy.”

Soto will look to block out the noise -- and brush off Saturday’s uncharacteristic performance -- on Sunday in the series finale, before he and the Nats head to Los Angeles to battle the Dodgers.

“Just come back another day,” he said of playing through trade talks. “Forget about what’s happening and go play. It’s really tough, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The pitch chart illustrates how the patient Soto, who leads the league in walks with 79 through play Saturday (23 ahead of Max Muncy's 56), was swinging outside of the zone. He noted that while Bumgarner was missing his spots, he himself “just missed the ball.”

D-backs catcher Carson Kelly described playing against Soto as “the chess of the game, taking different counts in situations.” Soto dropped to 3-for-20 on the season and 14-for-73 for his career against the D-backs.

“At the end of the day, I was just trying to hit the ball to the other way,” Soto said. “But I was just swinging too hard and getting out of my stance and stuff like that. For me, it’s just one of those days."