Washington Nationals

Juan Soto cleared to return to the Washington Nationals

Juan Soto is close to making a comeback from COVID-19

The floundering Washington Nationals, with just one win through five games this season, are on the verge of getting some significant help.

Juan Soto, the Nationals’ 21-year-old left-fielder and one of the best young sluggers in baseball, has been cleared by Major League Baseball to return to the lineup, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. Soto had been out since testing positive for COVID-19 on the eve of the Nationals’ season opener against the Yankees last Thursday. Since then, Soto has tested negative six times, including three from league-approved tests, but none of them had been consecutive until now.

He still has to be cleared by the D.C. Department of Health, but Soto’s imminent return is a welcome sight for the Nationals. The defending World Series champions rank 26th in the league in runs scored through five games. They’ve scored two or fewer runs in all four of their losses. Michael A. Taylor, who replaced Soto in left field, is 1-11 on the season with one RBI. Against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, the Nationals started Emilio Bonifacio in left; Bonifacio hadn’t played a game in three years and hasn’t hit a home run in six. He last appeared in 100 games in 2014 and hit just .169 over his last three seasons.

Soto is entering his third full season in the big leagues but still won’t turn 22 until October. Since making his debut in 2018, only three players in the National League—Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, and former teammate Anthony Rendon—have a higher OPS than Soto’s .937.

The start to his career hasn’t just been a boon to the Nationals, it’s been historic. He hit 34 home runs and drove in 110 RBI last season as a 20-year-old. Only Alex Rodriguez and Mel Ott ever reached both of those single-season milestones before turning 21. He has 56 career home runs and 180 RBI; Ott is the only player in baseball history with more home runs and RBI than Soto through their age 20 season. Four players—Rodriguez, Ott, Mike Trout, and Ty Cobb—had a higher Offensive WAR than Soto.

Soto was a big part of the Nationals’ run to the World Series last year. It was his home run and three RBI off Gerrit Cole in Game 1 that propelled them to an opening victory in Houston. He finished the series with three home runs, the youngest player in history to hit that many in a single Fall Classic. Manager Dave Martinez recognized what his loss meant to the team last week.

“It’s tough. It’s tough for everybody,” he said. “We just got to work through these things. I think we’re going to miss him. He’s a big part of our lineup, but we got to keep going.”

The Nationals did miss him. But now that he’s back, the club can return to making a run at a repeat performance of what they did last year.

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