Soto’s big catch shows defensive improvement

PHILADELPHIA - Juan Soto continues to do Juan Soto things.

This time it was on defense.

In the bottom of the fourth Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Nationals led 2-0 as the dangerous Rhys Hoskins stepped in against Stephen Strasburg.

Hoskins got a hold of a 1-2 88-mph changeup and drove it to deep left field. Soto tracked the ball toward the left field foul pole. He timed his jump perfectly, leaping back, crashing into the wall and making the catch as he fell to the ground. Hoskins was robbed of an extra-base hit and a the Phillies of a potential rally.

“I hung it a little bit,” Strasburg said of the changeup. “I was surprised it went that far. The guy works really hard. He works really hard in all aspects. His baserunning has gotten so much better in such a short amount of time and his defense has gotten so much better. The kid wants it. It’s fun to watch.”

Soto was disappointed in the start of his night at the plate. Soto had walked and scored a run in his first at-bat. But he struck out in his next at-bat before the big play on defense.

When the night was over, he had finished without a hit. But he did find a way to contribute a key sacrifice fly to score Howie Kendrick in the ninth and seal the 4-0 win.

“I don’t know. I tried to do my best every part of the game,” said Soto. “(Friday), I was 0-for-3, 0-for-4. I was ... going to give no base hits to nobody. I put that in my mind and then, after that, just come through.”

Soto-Catch-Gray-Philly-Sidebar.jpgNationals manager Davey Martinez said last week that Soto was not that comfortable in left field as he was in right field when he started his career in the pros. Soto had to learn the new position. He has worked every day to get better. Now that he is comfortable, his natural talent is starting to shine through.

“He works diligently on his defense, and he made an unbelievable play. I love the fact that he got back to the wall and got up,” Martinez said. “That’s huge for him because at first, he was afraid of the wall. He’s starting to get it. He really is.”

Did coaching and advice from teammates help Soto? Veteran Gerardo Parra said he has not had to teach Soto anything.

“This guy is working every day hard and learning more of the game,” Parra said “I don’t say that’s for me (to say anything) because those guys have too much talent. I think we are all working together, the outfield coach (Bobby Henley), Adam (Eaton) is working, too. That’s more important. I’m happy the guy’s defense is way better. They’re at a good point right now.”

But Parra also said nothing can replace actually playing in real games when the ball comes right at you. Now that Soto has close to 200 games in the major leagues, he is learning how to make plays like he did Friday night.

“That’s baseball,” Parra said. “When you play every day, when you play every game, you know more about how you should play, what position you play. That’s (how) the guy does it right now.”

The 20-year-old Soto demonstrated again Friday night an example of how his playing abilities are building with this experience. Even if he was not able to ring up two or three hits, he still can influence the final score with his glove.

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