The fact Juan Soto was back in right field Saturday for the first time in nearly three weeks didn’t necessarily mean the Nationals slugger will be back at his regular position every single day for now.
Despite appearing to look fine in his return to the field following a left shoulder injury, Soto is back to serving as the designated hitter for today’s series finale at Yankee Stadium.
Manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters that this was the plan all along. It wasn’t a response to anything that happened Saturday and the club is simply taking advantage of this rare opportunity to keep Soto in the lineup without subjecting him to the rigors of the outfield.
“We planned on it being that way,” Martinez said. “We got him out there (Saturday). He’s not today because we can DH him. He’ll DH, have a day off tomorrow and then Tuesday be back out there.”
The Nationals return home to open a three-game division showdown with the Phillies, and they won’t be playing in another American League park until June 8 at the Rays, so there won’t be any more DH opportunities for Soto.
Activated off the 10-day injured list at the start of the week, Soto was restricted to pinch-hitting duties for the Nationals’ home series versus the Braves, then served as DH for Friday night’s interleague series opener against the Yankees. Having finally tested his shoulder enough to make throws to bases with no significant issues, he was cleared to take the field Saturday for the first time since April 19.
Soto didn’t see a lot of action during the Nationals’ 4-3 11-inning loss, but he did make a strong throw to closer Brad Hand, who was covering first base after Ryan Zimmerman had to scamper down the right field line to try to make a diving catch of Aaron Judge’s bloop single in the bottom of the ninth.
Assuming there are no setbacks between now and then, Soto will be back in right field Tuesday against the Phillies. And he should be out there most every day after that, but Martinez said the Nats will have to watch him closely and perhaps pick and choose some spots to give his shoulder a rest.
“We’re probably going to have to monitor him a little bit,” the manager said. “He’s getting stronger. I know his shoulder is getting stronger. He talks about it every day. He threw the ball well; he’s been throwing the ball well. He’s definitely got to still stay on a throwing program and maintenance on that shoulder. But I think we can get through this.”