Soto ties Mantle, visits 'fam' on 1st 2020 HR

August 9th, 2020

WASHINGTON -- When had cardboard cutouts of his family placed in left field for his season debut on Wednesday, he said he felt like his relatives were at Nationals Park with him.

Perhaps one of them almost caught his first home run of 2020 on Saturday night, then.

Soto's opposite-field shot in the second inning of the Nationals' 5-3 loss to the Orioles was the 57th of his young career, tying him with Mickey Mantle for the eighth most before turning 22. Now only seven players sit ahead of the Nats phenom on the leaderboard of those younger than 22: Mel Ott, Tony Conigliaro, Eddie Mathews, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson and Al Kaline.

Against Baltimore right-hander Thomas Eshelman, Soto laced a 78.9 mph curveball a Statcast-projected 370 feet into the left-field stands. With a 99.7 mph exit velocity and 39 degree launch angle, similarly hit balls have an expected batting average of just .210.

“It was good for him. He's on the board,” said manager Dave Martinez. “The impressive thing is, he hit it the other way to left field. He's got tons of power, but when he starts doing that, it only tells me he's starting to get it.”

Soto, 21, is only three games into his third Major League season after a stint on the COVID-19 injured list delayed his debut. He has been batting cleanup in the Nationals' lineup with the hopes of giving the offense a punch. Last season, he tied Anthony Rendon for the most home runs on the team (34) and hit five in a breakout postseason performance.

Soto added a line-drive single to center field in the fourth inning, finishing the night 2-for-3 with a walk to increase his batting average to .364 on the year.