'I'm going to figure it out': Soto looking to stop skid

June 18th, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Going from a 2020 National League batting title to leading all of baseball in on-base percentage the following year, it would be an understatement to say the expectations were high for Juan Soto’s 2022 season.

Soto dazzled in his first four seasons in the Major Leagues and posted jaw-dropping numbers that put him in elite company with Hall of Famers before he turned 23 years old. “What will he do next?” was a common theme in each of his at-bats. So while a slow start to a season may be a side note for some players, a .216 batting average through his first 66 games has the 2021 NL MVP runner-up looking for answers.

“I’m feeling pretty good, my swings feel very on time,” Soto said. “I’ve just been missing a couple balls and just taking a couple pitches that I shouldn’t take.”

What is causing the All-Star slugger, who has exhibited unwavering discipline at the plate by pacing all players in walks last season, to take those pitches?

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what is going on. It’s just been up and down the whole year. But at the end of the day, I’m going to figure it out.”

Soto went a combined 0-for-8 with a walk in Friday’s doubleheader against the Phillies at Nationals Park. His free pass came in his last plate appearance with two outs in the ninth inning of the evening matchup, which helped send it into extras before the Nats fell, 8-7, in the 10th. After putting together a five-game hitting streak (including one home run) from June 8-12, Soto is on a four-game skid (0-for-14, three walks).

“He’s starting to pull off,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I think he’s trying to do too much again. We’ve got to get him back to stay really in the middle of the field and stay on top of the baseball. He’s getting underneath a lot of balls, and that’s because he’s opening up a little bit.”

Soto missed two games earlier this week against the Braves after he banged his right knee on the corner of the dugout bench late in Monday’s contest. He was not cleared to return until he passed a lengthy checklist of criteria.

In the sixth inning of Friday’s matinee, a 5-3 loss, Soto came to the plate with César Hernández on first base and no outs. He swung at the first pitch and grounded the ball to second baseman Bryson Stott, who turned it to shortstop Didi Gregorius to nab Hernández at second. Gregorius had enough time to get the ball to first baseman Rhys Hoskins to catch Soto, who still was steps away from the bag.

“He needs to start running balls out,” Martinez said. “As you know, I don’t care for that much. Everybody’s hustling, everybody’s running. It’s a ground ball double play. I know his knee could be bothering him a little bit, but in those situations, it’s 90 feet. I just want good effort.”

Martinez noted he spoke with Soto about the baserunning following the out, and it is a topic he has talked with the 23-year-old about in the past.

“I’m just going out there, just trying to push as hard as I can,” Soto said. “My knee is just going up and down, and I’m trying my best. At the end of the day, it’s just my fault. I’m not going to blame anybody, but I’m going to try harder the next time.”

When Soto was presented with an opportunity for a hustle play in Game 2, he capitalized on it. Tied 3-3 in the fifth inning, Kyle Schwarber smacked a line drive into right field. Soto chased it toward the corner and fired off a well-angled, one-hop throw to Maikel Franco covering second base to catch a diving Schwarber.

“I’m always trying to do my best, trying to play hard,” Soto said. “It doesn't matter if it’s going good or it’s going bad. Just go out there, try to do my best. I know that things aren’t going my way, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to try as much as we can to help the team.”

There are two games left in this series -- only the Nationals’ and Phillies’ first of the season -- for Soto to turn things around against the opponent he has had some of the most success against in his career.

“The key [is] to go out there and keep playing,” Soto said. “You’ve just got to keep positive. The season doesn’t end right here. We’ve just got to keep going. It’s a long season. We’ve got to keep going. It’s just the first half of the season, so we have a lot more games to play and a lot more wins to come.”