Soler powers giant pinch-hit homer for a 'W'

April 18th, 2023

MIAMI -- thought he might have Monday night’s series opener between the Marlins and the Giants off.

Soler was hitless in 10 at-bats with seven strikeouts against right-hander Logan Webb, and Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said before the game that his lack of success was the primary reason for keeping him out of the lineup.

But after Nick Fortes grounded into a double play with runners at the corners in the seventh inning of a one-run ballgame, Schumaker elected to pinch-hit Soler for utility player Garrett Hampson.

Webb threw Soler a first-pitch changeup for a strike. Then, a balk -- which was rescinded -- was called prior to his next offering. Soler believes it allowed him to relax in the moment while having the opposite effect on Webb. Soler responded by sending the next pitch -- a slider that leaked over the plate -- to straightaway center for the go-ahead two-run shot in the 4-3 victory at loanDepot park.

“That was obviously a huge hit,” Schumaker said. “I told him that he was going to be available on a day off but be available to pinch-hit, and he was ready. I don't think he thought it was going to be against Webb, I'll be honest with you. One of the reasons why he didn't play today. Just a testament to him still having confidence that he can do it, even though he really struggles against Webb.

"Prepared the right way up there with [assistant hitting coach] Jason Hart and came up and felt like he was going to do it. And that's not easy to do when you have 0-for-10 with seven punches. Huge hit, huge moment and exciting win for us.”

Soler said he didn’t take any practice cuts in the cages beforehand, though he did begin his routine in the fifth inning. Once the first runner reached base in the seventh, Soler warmed up inside the clubhouse because bench coach Luis Urueta told him to get ready.

The knock marked Soler’s second career pinch-hit homer and his first since Sept. 21, 2015, vs. the Brewers while he was with the Cubs. Miami improved to 4-0 this season when Soler goes deep, in large part because four of his five homers have been of the game-tying or go-ahead variety.

“It was very exciting because I got the opportunity to get the team ahead,” Soler said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “But mostly the hitting coach told me today to move a little forward and a little closer to the plate, and that was part of the success.”

As Soler admired the homer and made the trot around the bases, teammates Luis Arraez and Jesús Sánchez raced out of the dugout to greet him. Three of Miami’s five pitchers, who kept it a close-enough ballgame for such a decisive swing, cheered on from the clubhouse.

“It was me, [Andrew] Nardi and [Matt] Barnes, and we were all watching,” said left-hander Jesús Luzardo, who went 4 1/3 innings and received the no-decision. “It was incredible. As soon as he hit it, he kind of stood there, and we kind of knew. Soler is a big guy. Once he gets a hold of one, you kind of know. But just happy for him to come in there and pinch-hit in a big spot, and he comes through, so we're super happy.”

It was a welcome relief for Soler, who was pinch-hit for last Friday after his back flared up. He was limited to 72 games in 2022 due to back and pelvis issues, though he returned to game action on Sunday.

Eleven of Soler’s 12 hits this season have gone for extra bases (six doubles and five homers). Among Major League batters with at least 10 hits and 40 batted-ball events, Soler has the highest extra-base percentage (91.7).

“It started in the offseason,” Schumaker said. “[Soler] was coming every day, training with our training staff and trying to get right. It's a credit to our training staff of being here for him every single day and Soler coming in not checking a box but actually trying to get better. He knows what he means to this team and this lineup.

“When he's right, he's as potent as anybody in that offense in the middle of the order, and we need him to go. And when he goes, we win. He's won us a few games already, just by himself, and he can carry a team for a month straight, that type of thing. Credit to him and the work ethic he's had and continues to have so far during the season.”