The 21-year-old had been out of action since July 23 following a positive COVID-19 test result. He was cleared to return today, and got in a half a dozen at-bats during the Nats’ simulated game.
Soto grounded out a couple of times to begin the sim game, struck out, but then cranked a double and unloaded a solo homer off Nats reliever Kyle McGowin during the five-inning intrasquad contest.
“It was amazing. First day with my teammates,” he said. “We had a couple guys behind saying ‘Hey, when you going to start hitting the ball? When you going to do, this this, this?’ And since I hit it I just looked at them and said ‘Ballgame! It’s over!’ “
“He came in this morning, first time I saw him, he comes in my office with that big ol’ smile,” said manager Davey Martinez. Besides him being a baseball player, that’s what I miss about Juan: his personality, having him around, that big smile. We love the kid. He’s part of the family. So to get him back here, getting him going again, guys were excited. I know he was extremely excited to be back.”
“I’m really excited,” Soto said on his Zoom call after the sim game. “Happy to be back, knowing we have a season already. Coming back from spring training, I’m more excited than that. Ready to come to work and be ready for the games.”
Soto talked about what he did for the past 10 days without baseball
“For me, I have been watching the games, trying to work out through the games,” he said. “I’ve been riding my bike when the team is in the defense. The offense, I try to do core, shoulder, whatever. I’ve been trying to keep my body in shape. I’ve done legs stuff and other kind of things. I’ve been trying to keep my body in shape and to be ready to come back.”
General manager Mike Rizzo reported the day Soto tested positive that his player was asymptomatic. Soto confirmed he has felt fine all week, so he believes the result was a false positive.
“For me, in my mind, it was a fake positive,” Soto said. “I’ve been working on it. I’ve been tested a bunch of times negative. I’ve been following the rules, being in the right spot. And I think that’s why I think it was fake positive. I’ve been following the rules, I’ve been really serious with this because it is out there.”
Martinez said these next few days the team will focus on getting Soto’s legs back and getting him some work in the outfield. But just as with a starting pitcher after his first game back in five days, the Nats need to monitor how Soto feels when he comes into the training room each day.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Martinez said. “He hasn’t been able to get out in the field and do anything, as we all know. We’ve got to get him back. His legs feel a little sluggish. We’ve got to get him on his feet and get him back. I told him I wanted him to run the bases just to get used to the turns again. We did that.
“I said, ‘If you need to run anymore, if you feel like you need to run, go ahead and do it on your own.’ But we need to get him in baseball shape again, and that’s my biggest concern. He took some swings today, he look a lot of swings during BP, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there.
“I feel really good,” Soto said. “My swing feels really good. I was right on it. I hit the ball hard couple of times. I feel it’s about to be there.”
Soto got to get in several at-bats to help his swing. The first few at-bats were not the intense, game-ready type, but more of Soto getting back into a groove. Later on in the sim game is when he stroked the double and then a massive solo homer to deep left field.
“It’s funny, because he told me what he was doing was watching games on TV and had his bat and was actually standing up there like he was hitting at-bat and trying to work on his timing that way,” Martinez said. “That’s great, but it’s not the same as stepping in the batter’s box. He makes it look kind of easy sometimes, but he knows. He said he feels like he’s a little behind with his timing. So, we’re just going to try to get him as many at-bats again tomorrow as he’s capable, and then we’ll go from there.”
Martinez said he wants Soto to get in all his work the next couple of days and then see how he reacts Tuesday, when the Mets arrive.
“Hopefully, he’s good. We don’t know that yet,” Martinez said. “He looked good today, but we’ll see how he turns around tomorrow.”
Soto believes he will be able to return later in the week.
“I don’t know yet,” Soto said. “I try to work to see if I can come back Thursday or Friday. I don’t know, maybe it can be Wednesday, but I’m working to be back on Wednesday.”
But the bottom line for him today was being back with his teammates.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s how we are. We’re here, we are having fun every time and it feels great. I’m here with Trea (Turner), with Howie (Kendrick), (Adam) Eaton, all those guys, we are having fun out there. It don’t mind if we are playing intrasquad or we are playing another team, we are always talking and try to have fun.”