Soto surges over series split vs. Braves

Young slugger feeds on adversity, reaches base in 11 of 17 plate appearances

June 3rd, 2021

ATLANTA -- Juan Soto picked up some souvenirs in the Nationals’ four-game road series at Truist Park -- five hits, six runs, two homers, six RBIs and six walks.

Soto arrived in Atlanta hitting .267/.387/.385 with a .772 OPS. His slash line improved to .281/.411/.432 with an .843 OPS by the conclusion of the trip, including a pair of walks in the Nationals’ 5-1 loss on Thursday afternoon, while reaching base safely in 11 of 17 plate appearances.

“It’s exciting because we all know what he’s capable of,” said utility man Josh Harrison. “He knows what he’s capable of … He got pitches and he didn’t miss them. That’s a lot of having good at-bats -- when you get a pitch, take advantage of it. And he showed that this series.”

Soto had gone 11 games without a home run (dating back to May 19), and he had not homered in back-to-back games this season.

One key to breaking out of that funk: hitting the ball to the opposite field. On Tuesday, Soto established momentum in the fourth with a two-run single into left field. In the eighth, the 22-year-old right fielder belted a Statcast-projected 409-foot, two-run shot to left-center field.

“It set everything up for the next at-bats,” Soto said of the single. “It got me on time. It showed me where I can hit the ball, how far I can let it travel and how good I can hit it anywhere at the plate.”

On Wednesday night, Soto delivered a 437-foot home run over the same spot on the left-center-field wall. The work he had been dedicating to hitting the ball more out front and lifting it in the air was paying off. Entering the Braves series, Soto had a 40 percent fly-ball/line-drive rate and a 27.8 percent pull rate. In the first three games of the series, those numbers improved to an 85.7 percent fly-ball/line-drive rate and a 14.3 percent pull rate.

“I watched his swing [Wednesday] again, and his bat is staying in the zone like it used to be for a very long time,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I think you’re seeing Juan being Juan, and it’s good to see.”

As Soto makes noise at the plate, he also draws noise from the crowd. While playing away from Nationals Park, there are audible reactions during his at-bats and while he’s on defense, including “overrated” chants this week at Truist Park.

“Every time we’re on the road, I know I get a lot of stuff in right field,” Soto said. “I just try to pay attention to the game. Sometimes they just make me laugh. I don’t care what they say. I just really concentrate on the game. I just try to enjoy the game and do whatever I can. Every negative comment, I just try to put it out of my head and just keep it focused on the game.”

For the star who holds the mark for being the youngest player to win the National League batting title and has already captured a Silver Slugger Award, it’s all part of getting back into heavy-hitting form.

“He loves it. He said the boos are part of it, it doesn’t bother him a bit,” Martinez said. “He feeds off of that. He really does. As I always say, he’s a different kid. He loves the big moments, he loves to play the game and he loves to win.”