“That means I’m in a good position and I’m seeing the ball pretty well,” Soto said of his third-inning home run. “And whenever I start hitting the ball that way, that’s when everything starts going for me.”
Soto finished 2 for 4 with that homer and a ninth-inning single, bringing his average up to .242. In July, he’s 10 for 21 (.476) with three home runs and five RBI. His performance still wasn’t enough to help the Nationals, whose record dropped to 1-8 in July after they left the tying run in scoring position in the ninth.
When Soto is at his best, the left-handed hitter’s approach is to stay in the middle of the field and send the ball to either center or left. But at times this season, Soto has gotten away from that and his at-bats have looked like his first plate appearance Saturday. Braves starter Kyle Wright threw Soto a first-pitch curveball. Soto rolled it over to second base.
So Soto made an adjustment the following at-bat. Wright started the at-bat with almost the same pitch. Soto took it. Two pitches later, the curveball came again, and Soto let it travel into the strike zone before sending it over the 375-foot sign in left field.
“That’s my favorite part of the field to hit the ball,” Soto said. “I’ve always said since Day One, I love to hit the ball that way and see how the ball fades that way and everything. It’s one of the most beautiful things in baseball.”
The Nationals (30-57) got an additional solo shot from Yadiel Hernandez in the seventh, and Soto was part of threats in the eighth and ninth.
He started the eight inning with a walk, Josh Bell doubled, and Soto scored when Nelson Cruz singled to cut the Braves’ lead to 4-3. But the rally stalled.
In the ninth, Soto singled with two outs to put two runners on. The at-bat against A.J. Minter was vintage Soto. Minter put him in an 0-2 hole, but Soto didn’t expand his zone, rather waiting for a pitch up that he was able to serve into right field to keep the game alive. Bell grounded out to end it.
“When he starts seeing the ball the way he’s seeing it right now and staying on the ball, good things happen,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “You saw that today.”
How was Patrick Corbin’s outing Saturday? Not nearly as effective as his previous two starts. He was able to give the Nationals six innings but gave up four runs on eight hits, seven of them singles.
Corbin showed signs of improvement in recent outings, allowing just two runs over 15 innings and throwing the ball a bit harder than earlier in the season. But on Saturday, the Braves got to Corbin one single at a time.
The lone hit that wasn’t a single came in the first inning when Austin Riley hit a two-run homer to give the Braves (51-35) a 2-0 lead. They scored two more in the fourth on four singles.
Corbin was able to retire the final six batters he faced, and his slider continued to be effective like his past few outings — he got eight whiffs on 13 swings Saturday.
How is Victor Arano’s rehab coming along? Martinez said that the right-hander is “relatively close” but that he doesn’t want to put a timetable on his return because of the severity of his knee injury. Arano suffered a bone bruise June 5 against the Cincinnati Reds and has been working his way back to action since.
Arano traveled to West Palm Beach, Fla., last week to continue his rehab, and Martinez hopes to stretch him out before he makes his return.