Groundball-heavy Soto believes he’s close to breaking out

Any discussion of Juan Soto being in a slump has to include the qualifier that a Soto slump isn’t like any other hitter’s slump. Other hitters go 1-for-30 with 17 strikeouts, and that’s clearly a slump. Soto goes 6-for-30 with six strikeouts and we start worrying about him.

Soto has set the bar for himself extraordinarily high. But having said that, it’s not inappropriate to point out he’s not hitting like himself right now. And hasn’t been for a while.

In his first 10 games since coming off the injured list, the Nationals slugger was batting .200 (the aforementioned 6-for-30) with zero doubles, one homer, four RBIs, seven walks, six strikeouts and a .651 OPS. He did, however, go 2-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs during Saturday night’s loss to the Diamondbacks, offering a glimpse of progress.

“I feel like I’m pretty close,” Soto said in a Zoom session with reporters after the game. “We were working on it, me and (hitting coach) Kevin Long. We’re talking about things yesterday. I took my last two at-bats (Friday night) and it felt a little different, a little better. And today, every time I went to the plate, it felt good up there.”

Overall, Soto’s numbers aren’t up to his usual standards. He’s batting .274 with a .398 on-base percentage, .405 slugging percentage and .803 OPS, which falls below Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes on the Nats roster.

It’s the low slugging percentage that is most noticeable. Soto has delivered only two doubles and three homers in 103 plate appearances, and that’s a reflection of his biggest issue right now: He’s hitting the ball on the ground, not in the air.

Thumbnail image for Soto-Swings-Gray-HR-LA-Sidebar.jpgSoto’s average launch angle right now is a mere 2.9 percent, nowhere close to the 12.5 percent angle he posted in 2019. So even though he’s still hitting the ball hard (nearly 50 percent of the time), he’s not hitting it in the air to the gaps, down the lines or even over the fence.

“We’ve been working on it,” he said. “We’re trying to put the ball in the air. We’re just trying to put the head (of the bat) out, put the barrel out to the ball and then see how far it can land. We’ve been hitting the ball hard and trying my best.”

Soto believes that’s a relatively simple fix, and believes it will happen soon. At the same time, his manager would like to see another adjustment in his approach at the plate.

“He’s hitting a lot with two strikes, which doesn’t seem to bother him, obviously, when he’s going well,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But we want him to be a little more aggressive early on. Get balls in the strike zone, and swing at them. He’s taking a lot of balls. (Friday), he took a few fastballs early in the game. ...

“It’ll come. I know him. It’ll come. We just want him to be a little more aggressive in the strike zone.”

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