Blue Jays return home to face Nationals, Soto
TORONTO — Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays will have a chance to see a 19-year-old phenom on Friday night.
It will not be the one they have been waiting for all season, third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., however. It will be outfielder Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals, who will play a three-game interleague series at the Rogers Centre.
The Nationals (37-28) will start left-hander Gio Gonzalez (6-2, 2.65 ERA) in the opener and the Blue Jays (30-38) will counter with right-hander Aaron Sanchez (3-5, 4.33). Both teams had Thursday off.
In 20 games since he was called up from Double-A Harrisburg, Soto is batting .344/.447/.641 with five homers and 12 RBIs. Soto hit two home runs and had four RBIs Wednesday night in a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Guerrero, meanwhile, is on the disabled list with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee, although it is unlikely that he would be in the majors yet despite batting .407/.457/.667 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs at Double-A New Hampshire.
Soto (19 years, 231 days) became the youngest player to homer at Yankee Stadium since Andruw Jones (19 years, 180 days) of the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. The last younger player to homer in the Bronx in a regular-season game was Ken Griffey Jr. on May 30, 1989 (19 years, 190 days). Griffey Jr. also hit two homers in that game.
Soto became the youngest player in the majors to hit two homers in a regular-season game since Jones on Aug. 22, 1996, against the Cincinnati Reds. He also is the youngest in the majors with a four-RBI game since Robin Yount (19 years, 227 days) of the Milwaukee Brewers on May 1, 1975, against the Detroit Tigers.
“For him to go out there and do what he did (Wednesday), in front of this crowd, it tells you a little bit about the character that he brings,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “He understands the game. He understands his at-bats. He’ll swing at a bad pitch, and then he’ll lay off the next one. And he’s been doing that all year. He’s not afraid to take his walks. He’ll take his walks when he needs to. And he’s learning every day.”
Soto’s home runs helped offset some poor play by Washington.
“Let me be honest with you. It was ugly. It was,” Martinez said. “I’m not going to lie. We gave them five outs. Typically, when you do that, you don’t expect to win the ballgame.”
The Nationals split two games at Yankee Stadium and are 5-5 in their past 10 games. They are 22-12 on the road.
The Blue Jays, who are 5-5 in their past 10 games, were swept in a three-game series by the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, including a 1-0 game in the finale on Wednesday afternoon.
Before visiting the Rays, the Blue Jays swept four games from the struggling Baltimore Orioles at the Rogers Centre. Despite the sweep of the Orioles, the Blue Jays are 16-19 at home. Overall, they are 13-26 since May 2.
Gonzalez is coming off his shortest start of the season, 3 1/3 innings on Saturday. He allowed four runs, six hits and four walks in a game Washington won 7-5 over the San Francisco Giants.
He is 2-2 in five career starts against the Blue Jays.
Sanchez has reached 100 pitches in his start twice this season, which happened to be his two most recent outings when he had a win and a no-decision.
He is 1-3 with a 4.63 ERA in his past seven starts. The 25-year-old has never faced the Nationals.
The Blue Jays could have third baseman Josh Donaldson back on the lineup Friday. He has been on the disabled list with a calf injury. He also could play a rehabilitation game with Triple-A Buffalo before rejoining the Blue Jays.
Second baseman Devon Travis should return to the lineup Friday after being left out of the starting lineup Wednesday to rest a right knee that required surgery last year. He entered the game as a pinch runner in the eighth inning and finished the game at second base.
Travis has been one of the Blue Jays’ better hitters since rejoining the team from Triple-A Buffalo on May 22. In his past 15 games, he has gone 14-for-48 (.292) with three extra-base hits.
“When he starts hitting the ball pretty crisp the other way, he’s where he should be,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with the knee early on, and whether he could load up on it or not.”