MIAMI – We hear it all the time when teams go through offensive slumps. It’s the major leagues. The guy on the mound gets paid to get batters out, too.
Sometimes it’s just the case that a team runs into some tough pitching matchups.
That has been the case for the Nationals, who, aside from an 8-3 win over the Mets and a 13-6 victory over the Astros, have struggled to score in bunches over the past week.
Over their last five losses, the Nats have been outscored 30-6 and have failed to score more than two runs in a game.
The latest such games came facing future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander on Sunday and budding star Sandy Alcantara on Monday. Sometimes the cards you’re dealt are really good pitchers.
That doesn’t make the lack of production any less frustrating, however, as the Nats have now had back-to-back brutal days at the plate.
“I sense that sometimes they are pressing, especially when we're coming from behind,” manager Davey Martinez said after Monday’s 8-2 loss to the Marlins. “But we got to take the lead and hold the lead for a while, and then like I said good things will happen.”
The Nationals were able to take a lead last night, they just didn’t hold it for a while. After Yadiel Hernadnez singled in César Hernández in the top of the first for a quick 1-0 lead on Alcantara, Aaron Sanchez gave up four runs in the bottom of the second to promptly give it right back. That put the Nats in come-from-behind mode, which might have shown them pressing as their manager suggested.
“I mean, when you have runners up there and you have some of your big hitters up there, look, this game is not easy and hitting is definitely not easy,” said Martinez. “Especially, like I said, when you're facing a guy like Alcantara that has really good stuff. But I can tell you now, they're playing hard. They really are. And I'm gonna back them, I'm gonna believe in them. They give it everything they got, sometimes maybe a little bit more. But we're gonna keep battling, I know that. And this thing will turn around.”
Soto, who had a rare 0-for-4 night, actually didn’t think Alcantara was all that sharp. The Nats just gave him easy outs by swinging out of the strike zone and missing the pitches in it.
“I gotta say today, I mean, he's got pretty good pitches. But I was just swinging out of the strike zone,” Soto said. “I was thinking those pitches were strikes, but they weren't. And when he did really throw me one right down the middle, I just missed it. And it just happened. For me, I don't try to put too much pressure on me. I just try to go out there and compete every time. I don't worry about anything that it says on the board. I'm just worrying about wins and try to bring as many runs as we can to win the game.”
Soto did swing at a handful of pitches out of the zone, but he also didn’t take his usual number of pitches during his at-bats. Over his four at-bats against Alcantara last night, Soto saw only 14 pitches, with two ABs ending after just two.
Of those 14 pitches, only three were placed in the strike zone. One was a called strike one in his first at-bat, a 96.9 mph slider in the middle-outside part of the zone. One was a 97.9 mph sinker right down the pipe in a 3-1 count that Soto rolled over and grounded out to first with two runners on base in the top of the second, spoiling a chance for the Nats to extend their lead. And the third was a 89.4 mph slider just on the outside edge that Soto flew out to center in the top of the eighth.
Of the remaining 11 pitches Soto saw that were out of the zone, he swung at six of them, making contact on four of them and outs on two.
“I mean, it's the same thing,” Soto said of his approach at the plate. “You know, I've been going back and forth with my timing and all that kind of stuff. But at the end of the day, I'm seeing the pitches. I'm seeing the pitches in the strike zone. And that's why he got me like today. I've been seeing a lot of pitches in the strike zone and then come and face a guy that didn't throw me that many strikes. And I can swing at it. It wasn't a good idea. For me, it is what it is. We just gotta keep grinding, keep playing.”
“It's not that he's not doing so well right now,” said Martinez of Soto, “it's just, I think Juan just needs to relax a little bit. You know, not try to do too much. And that's the biggest thing. I've seen him hit those balls the other way. He's pulling a lot of balls. He's coming off some pitches he thinks and I know that he's hit before. So we just him need to relax and stay up the middle of field.”
Soto saw his slash line dip to .252/.384/.481 with a .865 OPS after not collecting a hit last night. Not terrible. Just not what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the young superstar, who won the National League batting title in 2020 and finished second in 2021.
Is the frustration mounting with the lack of overall success in the win column?
“It's tough to lose every time,” said Soto. “But like I said, we just got to forget about it, come back the next day. It's not all about one game or one series. We got to fly the whole year. We're gonna have lows, but the good days are gonna come.”
How does he maintain that positive attitude?
“I'm in the big leagues,” he said with a smile. “There's no better place than the big leagues. So why should I be sad? I just should be happy and keep grinding, keep playing.”