San Diego manager Andy Green insisted it wasn’t by design, but of the 14 pitches his staff threw to the 19-year-old Nationals phenom Tuesday night, 12 were out of the strike zone. And all 12 came during three plate appearances, each resulting in a four-pitch walk.
“We definitely didn’t go in there and say: ‘We’re going to pitch around him,’ ” Green told reporters. “We didn’t execute to him. If you look at the one guy all day across the board, he had three walks on 12 pitches, if I’m not mistaken. We went in there and just didn’t throw strikes.”
Credit, then, to Soto for laying off all those pitches out of the zone. Only 24 hours after he created a lasting memory by launching a three-run homer in his first major league start, the young slugger showed off the plate discipline club officials raved about throughout his brief stint in the minors.
Soto took four straight balls from left-hander Eric Lauer in the bottom of the second, then again in the bottom of the fourth. He took a first-pitch curveball for strike one in the bottom of the sixth but then ripped a single to right field on Lauer’s next offering. And then he drew the critical four-pitch, leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth that set the stage for the Nationals to earn a 2-1 walk-off victory.
Was the kid surprised he barely got anything to hit all night?
“Not much, just because yesterday was a good day for me,” Soto said. “I hit the ball hard. Maybe they want to throw in the corners or make me swing at balls. But be patient and look for my pitch.”
Soto’s patience in the bottom of the ninth was especially impressive. Plenty of hitters with far more professional experience have been known to get antsy when they know they can win a game with one swing. Soto, though, never took the bat off his shoulder, even when he had the green light to swing with a 3-0 count against reliever Matt Strahm.
“And he took a pretty good pitch,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He took it. That’s pretty good to see. He knows the strike zone pretty well.”
Soto also knows he’s not the only one who knows it well at this level. Which is why he insisted it wasn’t hard to stay patient even in that big moment.
“Not much, because I know the strike zone, and the umpires are better here,” he said. “So I take advantage of that. I know they don’t want to throw me a pitch to hit too hard. Maybe just be patient and see my pitch.”
Three days into his big league career, Soto is playing well beyond his years. He’s now 3-for-6 with a homer, three runs and three RBIs. And with three walks, he has successfully reached base in 6-of-9 plate appearances.
Surprising, even for a phenom, right?
“No,” catcher Pedro Severino insisted. “I don’t get surprised anything for that kid, because he’s amazing. He just got the age. Everything else, he got it.”