'Just a matter of time' for Soto at plate

May 10th, 2021

For as many home runs as has pummeled in his young career, there still is a rhythm to be established at the plate after being sidelined.

Soto was activated from the injured list on Tuesday after missing 10 games because of a left shoulder strain. Initially, the Nationals used the reigning National League batting champ as a pinch-hitter in their home series against Atlanta until he was cleared to throw in game action. Soto went 0-for-3 in three games vs. the Braves.

An Interleague matchup at Yankee Stadium this weekend gave Soto consistent at-bats as the designated hitter. He went yard on Friday with a Statcast-estimated 424-foot shot off Luis Cessa that had an exit velocity of 110.2 mph. Soto finished the day 2-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts.

Since then, Soto hasn’t struck out -- but he hasn’t recorded another hit, either. He picked up an RBI on Saturday when he drew a bases-loaded walk, one of two free passes that day in his return to right field. The following afternoon, he went 0-for-4 DHing in the series finale, including a 327-foot flyout to left.

“It feels great to be back,” Soto said on Sunday following the Nats’ 3-2 loss. “At the plate, I feel really good. My swing’s right on it. The ball doesn’t land where I want it, but my swing was right there, my timing was right there.”

Soto is batting .262 on the season, including this 2-for-15 stretch since his return from the IL. While he hasn't necessarily seen the results, a deeper look at the numbers gives insight into his at-bats during that time.

From Tuesday through Sunday, Soto hit .133. His expected batting average -- a Statcast metric abbreviated as xBA to measure the likelihood of a batted ball becoming a hit -- was .310, though, for a 177-point “unlucky” gap.

He also has a .333 slugging percentage during that stretch, compared to a .612 expected slugging percentage (xSLG) for a 279-point “unlucky” gap. The xSLG metric takes exit velocity, launch angle and sprint speed (on certain types of batted balls) into account.

“Right now, [I’ve] just got to keep swinging,” Soto said. “I’ve just got to find a way to hit the ball, square the ball up and try to find the gaps. I hit the ball really well [Sunday] twice. I just couldn’t find the hole. Just keep swinging and try to give it my best.”

Soto’s offense is a driving force for the Nationals, who are 5-5 in their past 10 games and entered Monday at the bottom of the NL East standings (13-17). He said he doesn’t put pressure on himself because all of his teammates are trying to perform at their best at the plate. Soto’s approach is to “keep grinding.”

Washington opens a three-game series against Philadelphia at Nationals Park on Tuesday. Soto holds a .299/.431/.653 slash line and 14 career homers vs. the Phillies, the most he has against any club.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before things click and you start seeing him hitting the ball hard all over the place,” said manager Dave Martinez.