WASHINGTON -- Being sidelined early in the season has become nothing new to Juan Soto. He began the 2020 season on the injured list last July, because of COVID-19 protocols. Just three weeks into the ‘21 campaign, he is out of action again -- this time after being placed on the 10-day IL on Tuesday night with a strained left shoulder.
“I think it’s going to make me feel better,” Soto said on Wednesday. “If you remember last year, I went out in quarantine and came back stronger. So I’m going to try to do the same thing.”
Stronger is an understatement. Soto went on to become the youngest player to win the National League batting title (.351), and he captured his first Silver Slugger Award, placing fifth in NL MVP Award voting.
The results Soto saw after his time away in 2020 were a silver lining in a frustrating situation. Soto can’t pinpoint one particular motion that caused the shoulder strain this year, only that he felt the discomfort when throwing but not swinging. An MRI revealed the injury.
“It’s just been tough,” Soto said. “I try to do my best to be on the field. I come to the field every day to work my body and everything, and try to do everything right [so I] don’t get to this point. It just feels tough to be on the DL, but they just want to keep me safe. It’s a long season. We want to play later in the season, not right now. It’s better to take a couple days now than lose half of the season.”
Soto’s early treatment program has been massage and rest. He will go through his recovery program at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., while the Nats are on a five-game road trip against the Mets and Blue Jays. Per health and safety protocols, players on the IL do not travel with the team.
“I don’t mind where I go,” Soto said. “I know they’re going to try to do their best to help me out. For me, I’m just going to concentrate and try to be ready to come back.”
In 14 games this season, Soto is slashing .300/.410/.460 with two home runs. He belted his second double of the season on Monday to snap a three-game hitless skid.
“I’ve been hitting the ball hard every time, I just don’t find the spot,” Soto said. “I think my timing was getting on it, getting ready. I was hitting the ball to either way -- left, right, center -- and I was feeling great. I think this is just setting me back, [letting] me think, relax.”
The Nationals have been turning to Andrew Stevenson to start in right field with Soto sidelined. While his teammates look to step up in the slugger’s absence, Soto will wait out his recovery and eye a strong comeback -- again.
“Why change? We’ve got 10 days in quarantine again,” Soto said. “Be ready and come back stronger -- I don’t mind.”