On Soto's walks, umps' mistake and Escobar's absence

ARLINGTON, Texas – In discussing Juan Soto’s struggles with runners in scoring position prior to Sunday’s game, Davey Martinez mentioned the importance of the Nationals slugger “accepting his walks” and thus not trying too hard to drive in runs when presented with the opportunity.

Wouldn’t you know Soto would wind up drawing four walks during Sunday’s 6-4 victory over the Rangers, though none of them came with a runner in scoring position (nor did the single he delivered in his other plate appearance). Instead, it was Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz driving Soto in during an early offensive barrage.

No matter. It’s the approach from Soto that pleased Martinez the most, and the hope that will continue when he does come up again with a chance to drive in runs.

“I would like him to walk a couple times, and then hit the ball a few times,” the manager said with a laugh. “But he’s going to take his walks, and when he’s taking his walks, I know he’s ready to hit. He’s seeing the ball. He got on base for us, and the other guys – Nellie and Josh – picked us up big-time today.”

It was the first time this season Soto drew four walks, the fourth time he’s done that during his career. It was also the first time this season he reached base five times, the sixth time he’s done that during his career.

“Any way I can help my team, I will feel good,” he said. “If I hit a single, if I hit homer or if I walk, I’m going to feel great about it. Because I know I’m going to be around the bases, and I know I’m going to be able to score for those guys who come behind me.”

Soto has returned to the No. 2 spot in the Nationals lineup, bumped back up from the 3-spot a week-and-a-half ago. It hasn’t necessarily translated into more production – he’s only 5-for-25 with two doubles, one homer, three RBIs and nine walks – but he has scored six runs in those eight games, helped out by the big bats directly behind him in the lineup.

“Every time you’re on base, you want Josh, who is red-hot right now, driving you in,” Soto said. “And then Nelson, he has the extreme power to hit the ball out of the park. Definitely it’s good to have them behind me.”

* It appears the controversial call that went against the Nationals late in Saturday’s 2-1 loss was actually reviewable after all, though nobody in a position to do anything about it realized it at the time.

An MLB spokesperson told the Dallas Morning News that Cruz’s eighth-inning foul ball that appeared to glance off third baseman Josh Smith’s glove in fair territory was reviewable under league rules, and that the umpiring crew led by Laz Díaz had been notified how it should have been properly handled.

The play in question, in which Cruz hit a line drive that landed foul beyond third base after deflecting off the diving Smith’s glove while still in fair territory, brought Martinez out of the dugout seeking an overturning by Díaz’s crew. Díaz informed Martinez a judgment call like that was not reviewable, which is true for fair/foul calls that occur in front of the base umpires.

The distinction in this case, though, was the deflection off a defender. Those type of plays can be challenged, according to MLB, which neither the umpires nor Martinez nor Texas manager Chris Woodward realized in the moment.

Martinez had not been informed by MLB or the umpires about the mistake in the moments following Sunday’s game. He said he planned to contact the league to get the clarification himself.

* When Alcides Escobar was activated off the injured list six days ago, Martinez made it clear the veteran infielder would now be coming off the bench while Luis García remained the starting shortstop. But Escobar hasn’t even so much as appeared in a game since.

Escobar has been taking ground balls at second and third base in addition to shortstop, and he’s even shagging some fly balls in the outfield in case he’s needed there. But to this point, his manager hasn’t summoned him off the bench to play anywhere.

“We want to use Luis every day, but there’s going to be an opportunity where I want to give him a day off,” Martinez said. “So I told Alcides to be ready. He’s taking ground balls everywhere, like I asked him to. He’s taking fly balls in the outfield. But he gets it. He’s a veteran guy who has done a lot in his career. He understands. I told him just be ready. If there’s a day where I can get him in there, I’ll give him a heads-up and let him know.”

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