Juan Soto overcomes struggles in clutch with 3-run homer, sparking Nationals’ win over Phillies

Juan Soto’s struggles with runners in scoring position this season went from being a blip on the radar to a concerning development. 

Through the first 67 games, the 23-year-old superstar hit just .125 with runners in scoring position. With 59 plate appearances in such situations, Soto only smashed one home run. 

The poor numbers in clutch situations are a big reason why Soto, the National League MVP favorite entering the year, is having the worst season of his career, albeit still a good one compared to a league-average player. His .802 on-base plus slugging entering Sunday’s matinee against the Phillies was almost 200 points worse than the .981 mark he put up across his first four big league campaigns. 

One hit can’t fix Soto’s numbers with runners in scoring position, but it can help turn the vibe around when he steps to the plate with runners on base. Maybe that’s what Soto’s three-run blast in the second inning was. At the very least, the 428-foot home run sparked the Nationals’ lineup to tally 12 hits and nine runs in a slump-busting 9-3 win over the visiting Phillies. 

The win snapped a brutal eight-game losing streak, all of which came last week during an eight games in seven days stretch. The skid was the Nationals’ second eight-game drought this season, with the previous one coming in late April. No team in the major leagues has more losses than Washington’s 46, and the club’s 24-46 record is the worst in the National League. 

The breakout from Washington’s bats helped starter Jackson Tetreault to his first major league victory. In his second career start, Tetreault didn’t need much help, as the 26-year-old right-hander iced Philadelphia’s hot bats across seven innings. He allowed six hits and three unearned runs while striking out two. 

The outing was much better than his first. Against the Braves in his debut Tuesday, Tetreault allowed nine hits and seven runs in four innings. He is only the third Nationals pitcher to complete seven innings in a start this season. 

Third baseman Maikel Franco drew first blood for the Nationals with a single to score Luis Garcia in the second. Garcia, the young shortstop who Martinez said earlier this week would continue to play every day even after Alcides Escobar returns from the injured list, went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and a double. The 22-year-old former top prospect is now hitting .360 with a .507 slugging percentage in his first 19 games of the season since being called up from Triple-A. 

Soto then deposited a first-pitch cutter with a 109.6 mph exit velocity into the right-field bleachers to give the Nationals a 4-0 lead. It wasn’t all perfect for Soto with runners in scoring position, as he flew out twice and struck out in his other three opportunities. 

The Phillies got two runs back in the fourth thanks to an error by Nationals center fielder Lane Thomas. His dropped fly ball on the warning track gave Philadelphia another out to play with, and Alec Bohm’s groundout and Bryson Scott’s single each drove in a run to cut Washington’s lead in half. The Phillies scored their final run an inning later when Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz’s back-pick attempt at first was wide of the bag and allowed Kyle Schwarber to score. 

But the Nationals got those runs back and more in the fourth and fifth innings. Cesar Hernandez doubled home a run and Nelson Cruz walked with the bases loaded in the fourth, while Franco belted a two-run long ball in the fifth. Franco was 2-for-3 with a homer, a walk, two runs and three RBIs. Hernandez (3-for-4) capped off the scoring in the seventh with an RBI single to score Garcia. 

Carl Edwards Jr. and Cory Abbott followed Tetreault with scoreless innings to shut the door.

The Nationals get a long-awaited day off Monday before heading to Baltimore for a two-game set against the Orioles. The off day will be only the club’s second scheduled off day since May 20. 

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