Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Soto's back, but no one wants to pitch to him

@jessicacamerato
September 8, 2020

WASHINGTON -- If Juan Soto had been eager to get back in the batter’s box after missing five games because of left elbow soreness, the Rays weren’t going to let him get too comfortable in his return. “If they don’t want to pitch [to] me, they’re just respecting my bat,”

WASHINGTON -- If Juan Soto had been eager to get back in the batter’s box after missing five games because of left elbow soreness, the Rays weren’t going to let him get too comfortable in his return.

“If they don’t want to pitch [to] me, they’re just respecting my bat,” Soto said.

Playing on Tuesday for the first time since last Thursday, Soto was in the lineup as the designated hitter out of caution for his throwing arm. With Soto batting fourth, leadoff man Victor Robles and Trea Turner pulled off a double steal to swipe second and third in his first plate appearance. Soto’s groundout to third base drove in Robles for his 27th RBI of the season and set the tone in Washington’s 5-3 victory over the American League-leading Rays, completing a two-game sweep and marking their fourth win in their last five.

Box score

Soto singled in his next at-bat, and Tampa Bay didn’t take any more chances with the slugger after that. Aaron Slegers intentionally walked him in the fourth and sixth innings, both times with two outs, to pitch to Kurt Suzuki, who flew out and grounded out. Soto finished the game 1-for-2 with a run scored, one RBI and the two free passes.

“Juan’s hitting the ball really well. We knew it was eventually going to happen,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Those other guys have got to pick him up, that’s all they’ve got to do. We’re trying to find someone to hit behind him. With Howie [Kendrick] being out, it’s tough. But I liked Zuk tonight hitting behind him. … He pulls for the guys behind him to drive him in. That’s what we do.”

The Rays’ approach to Soto was unique for opponents this year in spite of his success at the plate. Soto had only been intentionally walked three times all season prior to Tuesday’s game. With five intentional walks, he is now tied with Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman for the most in baseball.

“I just feel good about it,” Soto said. “Every time I can be on base, [I] try to help my team as much as I can. Every walk that I take, I don’t mind.”

Fifteen-year veteran Aníbal Sánchez, who improved to 2-4 with Tuesday’s victory, was not surprised to see opposing pitchers make this decision against his young teammate. He’s been around the game long enough to know what it is indicative of on the mound.

“Soto, he’s different,” Sánchez said. “He’s shown the last three years that he is an unbelievable hitter, so he deserves that respect. He’s won that respect from the other team. This guy, he’s unbelievable at the plate. If I’m the manager right now for any team, I’m not going to let that guy win.”

Martinez is no stranger to the approach, either. He was a member of the Cubs' coaching staff in 2016 when Chicago walked Harper intentionally three times (six total) in a 13-inning game against the Nationals.

“I’ve seen a lot of great hitters get walked,” Martinez said. “When you can hit, that’s going to happen. I tell him all the time, ‘It’s part of it. When they pitch to you, be ready. Do your damage then.’”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.