CINCINNATI -- In spite of Juan Soto’s gaudy numbers at the plate, Nationals manager Dave Martinez challenges his right fielder before every game. “'What have you got for me today?’” Martinez asks.
Soto delivered another big performance for his skipper on Thursday night, homering twice and setting a single-season franchise walks record to back a fine outing by Patrick Corbin in the Nationals' 3-2 victory over the Reds in the opener of a four-game series at Great American Ball Park.
Following the game, Martinez had some high praise for his right fielder.
“I played with a guy who was pretty impressive in his day, and that was Barry [Bonds],” Martinez said. “If you compare anyone to Barry right now, it’s him.”
Soto drove an 0-2 pitch from Reds starter Luis Castillo out to left field to put the Nats ahead 2-0 in the sixth. In his next at-bat, Soto again homered to the opposite field, this time on a 3-2 pitch from right-hander Luis Cessa, giving Soto 29 home runs on the season and 98 for his young career.
“I’m just seeing the ball really well,” Soto said. “The first one I hit it pretty well. The second one, I was surprised it was gone. I thought it was going to be foul.”
Soto also walked in the first inning against Castillo to move past Bryce Harper into first place on the Nationals’ all-time single-season walks list. Harper walked 130 times in 2018.
Soto has 131 walks this year, the most since Harper received 130 free passes in 2018. The Nationals’ right-fielder is the only qualified player in the Major Leagues with more walks (131) than strikeouts (84) so far this season, leading MLB with a 1.56 walk to strikeout ratio.
Joey Gallo is the next closest on the Major League walks list this season, with 109.
Soto walked twice on Wednesday in the Nationals' 7-5 victory over the Marlins, tying him with Harper. He also homered, doubled and singled in that game.
Martinez was asked before Thursday’s game if there was anything about Soto’s approach at the plate that needs to improve. It may have seemed like an odd question, considering Soto is among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category.
“There are times when he takes that big swing,” Martinez explained. “I tell him not to try to do too much. 'Don’t try to hit it 800 feet. Just get yourself ready like you always do.'”
Soto’s two homers on Thursday were a good example of not trying to "do too much," especially the one off Castillo -- which came on an 0-2 pitch that Soto lifted just over the left-field wall.
“When I hit it that way, it means my swing is right on time, right on point,” Soto said. “I learned that in Rookie ball -- never give up an at-bat. Keep grinding every time.”
Over his past 16 games, Soto is 29-for-54 (.537) with five homers, one triple, four doubles, 12 RBIs, 19 walks, one hit-by-pitch, one stolen base and 16 runs scored, furthering his case for the NL MVP Award.
“He’s got to be up there in MVP votes, if not win the MVP,” said Patrick Corbin who pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Thursday’s win. “Guys are pitching around him and he’s still on base all the time. I’m lucky I don’t have to face him.”