Soto adapts quickly to the 2nd turn, gives HR

JUPITER, Florida – As long as he can write Juan José Soto’s name on the lineup, manager Dave Martinez is happy. After batting third or fourth for most of Soto’s first four major league seasons, Martinez was pleased with the way the young Dominican star looked Wednesday in the second at-bat.

“I really like it that way,” Martinez said before the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. “Let’s play around with this a little bit and see what we come up with.”

Soto responded to the change by hitting a solo shot in the first inning to center field off a 96.7 mph fastball with the count full off countryman Sandy Alcantara, the slugger’s first homer this Spring Training.

“Obviously Soto did it by himself today,” said starter Patrick Corbin, who pitched four shutout innings. “As a second bat he is going to have more at-bats in the year. I think that giving him as many turns as we can is something positive for us.”

Martinez is toying with the idea of ​​moving Soto up the batting order behind the lineup starter, who will likely be Cesar Hernandez. Last season, Soto hit third in 116 of his 151 games, posting a .330/.484/.589 slash line, a 1.072 OPS and 89 RBIs in 394 at-bats there.

Hitting No. 2 would represent a significant increase in offensive opportunities for Soto, who led the majors in on-base percentage in 2021. Martinez estimates Soto could take 30 to 35 extra at-bats if he hits second. The pilot also recalled the games last season in which Soto was left in the on-deck circle at the end of the game. Of the Nationals’ 84 losses in 2021 when they were at bat to the last out, Soto was caught off guard in 11 of them at the time of the last out.

“He (Martinez) was telling me, when I’m hitting second it’s a good opportunity to keep the game alive,” Soto said. “So let’s try it.”

A change in where he hits might require a mindset adjustment for Soto. Showing up on the second turn is more than just pushing runs. It’s about getting hits or — in the case of the league leader in walks — taking a walk. That would increase the chances of driving for those who look like the main candidates for shifts three, four and five: Nelson Cruz, Josh Bell and Keibert Ruiz.

“It won’t always be getting runners to the plate,” Soto acknowledged. “It’ll be more getting on base and letting the guys tow me.”

While some of the most talented hitters have traditionally hit third, there are plenty of sluggers who have also dominated second. Since the 2017 season, Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Christian Yelich have all hit at No. 2 more often than anywhere else in the lineup during their MVP-winning seasons.

Freddie Freeman and Venezuelan José Altuve also saw a lot of action hitting second in their MVP years. Soto, for his part, finished second last season in NL MVP voting.

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Soto adapts quickly to the 2nd turn, gives HR