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Al Galdi’s #ChinMusic Blog: Juan Soto is becoming All-Star-worthy, should Nats leave Harper in leadoff spot? and more

 

1. 19-year-old Juan Soto continues to amaze. He was an offensive factor in all five games for the Nats from Monday-Thursday, leaving him with a jaw-dropping 1.024 OPS over 108 major-league plate appearances. We have gotten to a point where Soto is arguably the most deserving Nats position player to be on the National League All-Star team. You could argue for Matt Adams, Anthony Rendon or Trea Turner. But Soto deserves to be in the mix, especially given his age and the extent to which he has taken the team and MLB by storm. If the All-Star Game is truly about being for the fans and promoting the game, why shouldn’t Soto be considered, especially given that the game will be played at Nationals Park? And you can no longer say that he has barely played.

Let’s start with Monday’s game and-a-third against the Yankees. Soto smashed a go-ahead two-run homer onto the top of the second deck in right field in the bottom of the sixth in the 5-3 win over the Yankees in the continuation of the rain-suspended game from May 15. He was not called up from Double-A Harrisburg until May 20, begging the question of, “Well, does this now go down as his first major-league home run?” The answer is no, but it was cool to see Soto break the space-time continuum. Soto also had an outfield assist for a double play to end the top of the seventh thanks to some bone-headed base running by Gary Sanchez. Soto then had two singles in the 4-2 loss to the Yankees in the makeup game on Monday night.

Then came the Nats winning two of three over the Orioles. And it wasn’t just what Soto did; it also was where he was batting. Soto batted in the no. 2 spot as the starting left fielder in Games 1 and 2, providing a single and two walks in the 9-7 win on Tuesday night and a double to left field and a walk in the 3-0 loss on Wednesday night, though Soto did take a questionable route and leap for the ball on the leadoff double by Adam Jones on a 1-2 pitch off Shawn Kelley in the Orioles’ one-run sixth. And then came Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the Orioles. Dave Martinez put Soto in the no. 4 spot, and he delivered the biggest hit of the game: a one-out tie-breaking two-run opposite-field double to left-center off Mychal Givens in the bottom of the eighth. Soto also drew a five-pitch leadoff walk off Kevin Gausman in the bottom of the fourth.

2. Bryce Harper has had another topsy-turvy last few days.

First of all, he has largely continued to struggle. Bryce went 0-for-4 with a strikeout as the starting center fielder in the 4-2 loss to the Yankees in the makeup game on Monday night. The strikeout was big, as it came with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the fifth with the Nats trailing, 3-2. Bryce in the 3-0 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night went 0-for-4 as the starting center fielder, including grounding into an inning-ending double play off Andrew Cashner on a weakly hit grounder to first baseman Mark Trumbo with runners on first and third in the bottom of the first and popping out weakly off Miguel Castro to shortstop Manny Machado with runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the sixth.

But there have been a few bright spots. Bryce in the 9-7 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night, off shaving his beard, had a game-tying two-out RBI double off David Hess in the Nats’ four-run fifth (though the double came on a bloop near the left-field line) and a walk as the starting center fielder. And Bryce in the 4-2 win over the Orioles on Thursday night batted in the leadoff spot for the first time in weeks, as Dave Martinez said that putting Bryce back in that spot would hopefully lead to him doing what I have been all over him for not doing lately: drawing walks. Sure enough, Bryce had two walks, a double and an RBI sac fly as the starting right fielder. His first walk culminated a nine-pitch plate appearance to begin the bottom of the first. And his second walk was a nice one, as it came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth and despite him having been down in the count 0-2. And Bryce’s double was a leadoff double in the bottom of the eighth and came despite him having been down in that count 1-2. Bryce is still in a bad way, as he’s batting just .213 and has seen his OPS plummet from 1.073 off his two-homer performance in the 7-3 win over Philadelphia on May 4 to now .821 – a 252-point decline. But perhaps being back in the no. 1 spot is what can get Bryce going again. We can debate whether the Nats should spend $300+ million to re-sign him (I say no).  But we can all agree that his talent screams that he’s much better than what he’s showing.

3. With Juan Soto’s heroics having him now as the Nats’ every-day left fielder and Bryce Harper’s talent commanding that he not sit, the Nats’ outfield logjam is resulting in less playing time for Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor.

Taylor did not start either of the Nats’ first two games against the Orioles, though he did have a pinch hit in each game: one-out pinch RBI single off Mike Wright Jr. in the Nats’ four-run seventh in the 9-7 win over the O’s on Tuesday night and a pinch one-out single on a one-two pitch off Brad Brach in the bottom of the ninth in the 3-0 loss to the O’s on Wednesday night. Taylor had a single in the 4-2 win over the Orioles on Thursday night as the starting center fielder, leaving him with a career-high 12-game hitting streak.

Eaton started Games 1 and 2 of the series win over the Orioles in right field but did not play in Game 3. He in the 9-7 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night had a one-out two-run single in the Nats’ four-run fifth, another single and a walk. Eaton also had two singles in the 4-2 loss to the Yankees in the makeup game on Monday night.

4. A Nat who is hot offensively is Anthony Rendon. He had a double, a single and a walk in the 4-2 loss to the Yankees in the makeup game on Monday night. He in the 9-7 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night had a first-pitch two-run double to the gap left-center off Tanner Scott in the Nats’ four-run seventh, a single and an RBI sac fly in the Nats’ four-run fifth. Rendon in the 3-0 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night had an opposite-field double, a single and a walk. And he had a leadoff homer to left-center off Kevin Gausman on a 1-2 pitch in the top of the sixth in the 4-2 win over the Orioles on Thursday night. Rendon now over his last 13 games: 18-for-48 with six walks. He leads all qualified Nats this season in on-base percentage (.357), slugging percentage (.480) and thus OPS (.837).

5. Trea Turner in the 9-7 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night had one of the single best games any Nat has had this season. He had a two-out solo homer on a 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the second, a double in the Nats’ four-run seventh and two singles. And The Burner made two terrific defensive plays: firing home on a jump throw to gun down Trey Mancini on an attempted double steal to end the top of the sixth with runners at the corners, two outs and the Nats trailing 6-5 and making a nice sliding and backhanded catch on the left-field grass and then throw to retire Danny Valencia on a groundout for the second out in the top of the eighth. Turner had a single in the 3-0 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night and a single and a walk in the 4-2 win over the Orioles on Thursday night. He’s third among qualified Nats with a .754 OPS this season.

6. Daniel Murphy had a leadoff double off Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth in the 4-2 loss to the Yankees in the makeup game on Monday night but still does not look right off his right-knee microfracture surgery this past October. He in the 9-7 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night was replaced to begin the top of the sixth as part of a double-switch off looking all kinds of uncomfortable running down the first base line on a groundout that ended the bottom of the fifth. And Murphy went 0-for-7 in the Nats’ series win over the Orioles, including 0-for-3 in Games 1 and 2. He now is 3-for-29 with one walk over nine games this season. Murphy having to play first base with Matt Adams on the 10-day disabled list with a fractured left index finger and Ryan Zimmerman still on the 10-day DL with his right oblique strain isn’t helping, as Murphy was unable to just be the DH for all five of those recent games at the Yankees and Toronto. The good news is that Wilmer Difo showed some offensive life as the starting second baseman in the series win over the Orioles. He in the 9-7 win on Tuesday night had two singles, including a two-out RBI single in the Nats’ four-run seventh. And Difo in the 4-2 win on Thursday night had a triple and a single.

7. Mark Reynolds has really cooled off. He struck out twice in his two at-bats in the Nats’ 3-0 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night, including with the bases loaded against Brad Brach to end the game. And Reynolds went 0-for-4 as the starting first baseman in Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the Orioles. Reynolds now is 3-for-his-last-42 with 17 strikeouts versus three walks since beginning his Nats career on a tear with six homers, a double and three walks over his first 39 plate appearances.

8. Max Scherzer, thankfully, did not suffer another hard-luck loss in Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the Orioles. Off having suffered back-to-back losses in 2-0 games for the Nats despite pitching well (four runs in 13 innings, 19 strikeouts versus four walks), Max allowed two runs in seven innings on nine strikeouts versus five hits, a walk and a bizarre wild pitch that was nowhere near home plate in being about 10 miles outside to Manny Machado with two outs and a runner on second in the top of the third. Each run given up by Max came on a homer: a one-out solo homer by the returning Colby Rasmus in the top of the second and a first-pitch leadoff homer by Mark Trumbo in the top of the fourth. Otherwise Max was good, throwing 72 of his 102 pitches for strikes. Max is no. 3 among qualified pitches in the majors with a 2.09 ERA, no. 3 with a 0.85 WHIP and no. 1 with 13.46 K/9.

9. Hard to judge Gio Gonzalez for his work in the Nats’ rain-delayed 3-0 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night, during which the rain delay was longer than the actual game: two hours, 43 minutes versus two hours, 34 minutes. He lasted for four innings, giving up two runs on five hits, including a two-run homer to Mark Trumbo in the top of the second. The good news is that Gio did not issue a single walk off having issued six walks over his previous two starts, which had totaled just 9 1/3 innings and resulted in nine runs.

10. Jefry Rodriguez in Tuesday night’s 9-7 win over the Orioles made his second major-league appearance for the Nats, and it was a start. He was recalled from Double-A Harrisburg and allowed five runs in five innings on two homers, a double, a single, three walks and a hit-by-pitch versus six strikeouts. Rodriguez tossed two scoreless innings but then gave up a one-out first-pitch two-run homer to Jace Peterson in the top of the third and a two-out two-run homer to Trey Mancini (who had been down in the count 1-2) in the top of the fourth. Rodriguez also allowed a run on a double play in the top of the fifth, which he began by issuing back-to-back walks of the Orioles’ starting pitcher, David Hess, and Peterson and then hit Adam Jones with a pitch. But that double play was big, as Rodriguez got it on a weakly hit grounder to second baseman Wilmer Difo by the great Manny Machado with the bases loaded and no outs and then struck out Mark Trumbo on three pitches to end the threat. Rodriguez, who is listed as being 6-6 and 232 pounds, is a converted infielder who was signed out of the Dominican Republic.

11. Erick Fedde struggled again in the 4-2 loss to the Yankees in the makeup game on Monday night, allowing three runs in 5 1/3 innings on seven hits and two walks versus four strikeouts. He threw just 55 of his 97 pitches for strikes. Fedde allowed a run in the top of the first on a leadoff double by Aaron Hicks and a two-out RBI single by Giancarlo Stanton on a ball that squirted through the infield. Fedde then tossed scoreless second, third and fourth innings, but he then allowed a one-out two-run homer to Hicks in the top of the fifth. We still have a ways to go before we declare Fedde a bust, but the no. 18 overall pick of the 2014 draft now has a 7.47 ERA and 1.79 WHIP over six career major-league starts.

12. When it comes to the Nats’ bullpen, these have been another solid last four days. Nats relievers from Monday night through Thursday night combined to allow five runs in 17 2/3 innings.

Wander Suero, Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle combined for three scoreless innings in the continuation portion of the 5-3 win over the Yankees that was completed on Monday night

Tim Collins, Suero, Solis, Shawn Kelley and Matt Grace combined to allow one run in 3 2/3 innings in the 4-2 loss to the Yankees in the makeup game on Monday night. The run came in the top of the seventh on a two-out RBI double by Giancarlo Stanton off Solis but run was charged to Suero thanks to him beginning the inning by hitting Clint Frazier with a pitch, then committing a throwing error on pickoff attempt to advance Frazier to second and then issuing a one-out four-pitch walk of Aaron Judge.

The Nats’ 9-7 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night included an interesting night for the bullpen. Justin Miller allowed a tie-breaking run in the top of the sixth thanks in part to giving up a leadoff triple to Jonathan Schoop and then issuing a five-pitch walk to Danny Valencia and then a one-out four-pitch walk to the light-hitting Caleb Joseph. Miller did then toss a scoreless seventh, followed by Kelvin Herrera tossing a perfect eighth on just six pitches in his Nats debut. Sean Doolittle then recorded the save in the ninth despite giving up a one-out solo homer to Joey Rickard.

Kelley, Grace and Collins combined to allow just one run in five innings in the Nats’ rain-delayed 3-0 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night. Kelley gave up the run in the top of the sixth thanks to a leadoff double by Adam Jones on a 1-2 pitch and then a one-out RBI sac fly by Danny Valencia, but Kelley also recorded four strikeouts in his two innings, including striking out Jonathan Schoop on three pitches to end the top of the sixth.

Herrera and Doolittle each tossed a perfect inning in the Nats’ 4-2 win over the Orioles on Thursday night.

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