One week after his show-stopping victory in the Home Run Derby, Juan Soto will return to the scene of the triumph when the Washington Nationals open a three-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
Soto got the best of Seattle Mariners rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez in the derby, winning the final 19-18.
Soto returned to the Dodger Stadium outfield for Tuesday’s All-Star Game, creating a stir among fans. Amid Soto rejecting a $440 million contract extension and with word the Nationals will explore trading their star, Dodgers fans chanted “Fu-ture Dod-ger” at Soto.
The fans will get a chance to do more courting this week. The Nationals enter Monday’s game after rallying for a 4-3 victory Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks to avoid a three-game sweep.
Since his Home Run Derby victory, Soto went 0-for-3 off the bench for the National League in the All-Star Game, then went 1-for-10 in the three-game series at Arizona, but he had three walks Sunday. His 0-for-4 effort in Saturday’s game ended his career-best 27-game hitting streak.
“Just come back another day,” Soto said about playing through potential distracting circumstances. “Forget about what’s happening and go play. It’s really tough, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Washington is having a miserable time this season with a baseball-worst 32-65 record and has been even worse of late, losing 11 of 13 games.
The Nationals will send right-hander Paolo Espino (0-3, 3.57 ERA) to the mound in the series opener. In three career appearances (one start) against the Dodgers, Espino does not have a decision with a 3.68 ERA.
When the Dodgers won two of three games at Washington in May, Espino made two relief appearances without giving up a run in three innings.
The Dodgers will counter on Monday with All-Star Tony Gonsolin (11-0, 2.02), who will look for a little redemption on the home mound.
In Tuesday’s All-Star Game, Gonsolin gave up back-to-back home runs to the New York Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton and the Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton. He was the losing pitcher in the AL’s 3-2 victory.
Regular-season outings have been a different story for the fourth-year pitcher, who already has a career-best 17 starts this season. But he did give a hint at what was to come in the All-Star Game when he allowed season highs with five runs and seven hits in a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 13.
He is getting the full allotment of rest that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts can offer by starting the team’s fifth game after the break.
Roberts loves his team, and why not after it has won 19 of its last 21 games and is the best team in the NL while on an eight-game winning streak?
But with Soto trade rumors abounding and the slugger coming back to Los Angeles this week, Roberts was asked if the Dodgers had a roster need in advance of the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
“You can always get better, but looking at our 26 (active players), and then you kind of look out to four to six more players that are getting healthy, there’s certainly no need,” Roberts said. “There’s always a way you can get better, and we’re always kind of kicking tires. But certainly no need.”
The Dodgers hope third baseman Justin Turner can return Monday. The veteran has not played since Thursday with a strained rib cage.
–Field Level Media