Soto shines in DC return as Padres down Nationals 7-4
WASHINGTON (AP) — Juan Soto hit his ninth home run and had three hits to begin a three-game visit to his former team as the San Diego Padres earned a 7-4 victory over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.
“It feels great, it’s where everything starts,” Soto said of hitting in Nationals Park again. “It’s where my dream started off, and it feels amazing to get in that box, even if I’m on another team.”
Jake Cronenworth followed Soto’s seventh-inning solo shot with a two-run homer two batters later as the Padres scored four times off Nationals reliever Erasmo Ramirez (2-2).
Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Dixon also went deep earlier against Nationals left-hander MacKenzie Gore, the headliner of six players the rebuilding Nationals received from the Padres in exchange for Soto and Josh Bell at last year’s trade deadline.
San Diego’s Yu Darvish (3-3) allowed back-to-back homers to CJ Abrams and Lane Thomas in the fifth inning, but no other damage in a six-inning effort.
“He was rolling,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “When he gave up the three runs, it was unexpected when he starts rolling like that like he did through the first four (innings).”
Josh Hader worked a scoreless ninth for his 12th save in 14 chances.
Gore pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and four walks over 103 pitches in his first start against his former team.
“He’s throwing a lot of pitches to get outs,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We’ve got to get him more in the zone.”
Soto’s performance was easily his best in eight games against the Nationals since leaving Washington. And his previous three-game series here as a visitor came less than two weeks after the trade, so Tuesday felt more like the first homecoming.
It included a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 21,438 on his first trip to the plate, which Soto recognized by facing the stands, raising his helmet skyward and then motioning toward his heart. He connected with Gore’s next pitch up the middle for a single to begin a night that lifted his season batting average to .260 and his May mark to .343.
“It feels amazing, the fans, how they feel, how thankful they feel for what we done in this ballpark and for this organization,” said Soto, who was a key contributor to the Nationals’ 2019 World Series win. “I’m really happy that they enjoy and that they’re still proud of what we did.”
Fernando Tatis Jr. put San Diego in front for good on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly to shallow right. Rougned Odor raced home ahead of a throw cut off by Ramirez when a close play at the plate appeared likely.
The next inning, Soto hit Ramirez’s 1-1 offering, sending it 441 feet over the center field wall. Cronenworth’s two-run shot that followed was initially ruled a double, but was upgraded to a home run after replay showed it struck a metal railing just beyond the wall in right-center.
Padres: 3B Manny Machado (hand fracture) took dry swings, hit off a tee and threw long toss before Tuesday’s game. “No idea yet on Friday,” Melvin said regarding Machado’s chances of returning from the 10-day injured list on the first day he is eligible. “But I know today was a better day for him.”
Nationals: Minor league LHP and former Nats closer Sean Doolittle (elbow surgery) will pitch on consecutive days Wednesday for the first time during his rehab at extended spring training. … RHP Cade Cavalli (Tommy John surgery) returned to the team’s spring training facility in Florida after spending the weekend in Washington. … C Israel Pineda (broken right finger) will begin a rehab assignment at High-A Wilmington.
Padres: LHP Ryan Weathers (1-2, 3.42) makes his first career start in Washington on Wednesday.
Nationals: RHP Trevor Williams (1-2, 4.26) seeks his first home win in five attempts.
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