Soto back to second place, now trying to fix RISP issues

ARLINGTON, Texas — Nine days ago in the opener of their doubleheader against the Phillies, the Nationals tried to mount a rally late in the ninth. Trailing by two runs, the bottom of the order had two men on base with one out, flipping the lineup and giving the best hitters a chance.

But then Lane Thomas failed, César Hernández struck and Juan Soto found himself watching a 5-3 defeat become official from the circle on the bridge.

It was the last time Soto beat third for the Nats. In each of the eight games since, he’s been their No. 2 hitter. And that’s been by design.

“We get all these numbers periodically, and analytically the numbers suggest our best hitter should hit two,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s got a lot of opportunities with guys on base, and that’s kind of where I want him. The other thing: it still got to where it was on deck and we couldn’t get it up there (to the plate). I do not want that. If we have a chance of winning a game, I want him standing and not on the bridge.

There is certainly a logic behind this. It’s one of the reasons Martinez asked Soto to be second at bat to start the season. But as the slugger struggled, the Nationals decided to try him again in his more familiar No. 3 spot to see if it sparked anything in him.

This was not the case. In 23 games batting third this season, Soto is batting a measly .185. He’s still drawing walks, leading to .340 on-base percentage. But as has been the case when he’s second at bat, he just isn’t driving in the runs.

Soto’s overall numbers with runners in scoring position remain astounding. He’s now 7-for-56 in those situations, having delivered fewer hits than Luis García despite twice as many plate appearances.

The good news: Soto continues to provide at least one batting quality per game. He has doubled the wall at center left each of the last two days. But each of those hits came early in the inning, with no one on base. His success rate dropped dramatically when given the opportunity to drive in races.

“The most important thing for me with him is accepting his walks, which he did well. No chasing,” Martinez said. “I think when we get runners in scoring position, he chases a little more than he normally does. We just need to get him to relax and control his sweetspot. The most important thing for him, when he gets a ball he can hit, he gives a good swing to the ball. And you see that: sometimes he gets up there and he relaxes, he has no pressure to drive in races, and he hits the ball well. We want him to take the same approach when there’s guys on base and he’s just trying to get a hit, tries not to overdo it.

Soto is second at bat again for today’s series finale against the Rangers. Martinez can only hope that he not only gathers several quality batters, especially with runners on base, but also finds himself at the plate in the ninth inning with a chance to make the difference, not looking helpless. from the bridge. circle.