Washington Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto was officially reinstated from Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 injured list Tuesday almost two weeks after a surprise positive test for the coronavirus kept him from playing on opening night.
However, the Nationals did not put Soto in their starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets. Manager Dave Martinez said he was available to pinch-hit.
Martinez said he and his staff were guarding against bringing Soto back too soon — and Soto agreed that he could probably use another day or so to feel ready to start.
“I mean, we just got him back,” Martinez said. “He missed a lot of time. So we just want to make sure that when he’s here now, he’s here to help us every day and he doesn’t get injured.”
Still, Soto could make his first start of the season as soon as Wednesday against the Mets. If not then, fans should expect to see plenty of Soto in Washington’s Friday-Sunday series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Soto believes the test result that came back July 23 was a false positive. He did not receive another positive result since that day, when the Nationals hosted the New York Yankees to open the 2020 baseball season. But it took longer than expected for two negative tests within 24 hours to come back from MLB’s lab. Then, he had to be cleared by the D.C. Department of health.
“I tested a bunch of times negative,” Soto said over the weekend. “I’ve been following the rules, being in the right spot and that’s why I think it was a fake positive. Because I’ve been following the rules, I’ve been really serious with this, because (the virus) is out there.”
Soto was cleared to rejoin his team and began practicing at Nationals Park Saturday. Martinez said Soto took about 20 at-bats over a four-day period. The plan for Soto Tuesday was to hit again, field ground balls and run the bases.
Martinez said he reminded Soto that now that the National League is playing with a designated hitter, the Nationals had the option to have Soto play DH on days that he needs a break.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I forgot about that,’” Martinez said. “Even though he doesn’t like it, because he loves to play the field, but we may have to DH him some days.”
Pitcher Wander Suero was also activated from the COVID-19 injured list. To make room on the 30-man roster, outfielder Andrew Stevenson was optioned to Washington’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Without Soto, the Nationals went 3-4 in their first seven games and suffered through more than a few anemic offensive performances. Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera spent stints batting cleanup, which is Soto’s projected spot when he becomes an everyday fixture in the lineup again.
In left field, Washington rotated through Stevenson, Michael A. Taylor and Emilio Bonifacio in Soto’s stead.
Further, Stephen Strasburg is expected to pitch to live hitters as part of a simulated game Wednesday as he prepares to return to the Nationals’ rotation. Strasburg has yet to make an appearance in 2020 because of a nerve impingement in the wrist of his throwing hand, an issue which has since cleared up for the ace.
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