Nats, Soto go for series victory over Marlins

The Sports Xchange

July 28, 2018 at 11:40 pm.

MIAMI — J.T. Realmuto, the Miami Marlins’ All-Star catcher, hit .175 with no extra-base hits as a 19-year-old in the lowest rung of his organization’s minor league system.

Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals rookie left fielder, is in the majors at 19, and he entered Saturday’s action with a .315 batting average, 13 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs and an impressive 1.005 OPS.

Soto hit a 442-foot home run in his first career start, which came May 21 against the San Diego Padres.

“He is a special player,” said teammate Bryce Harper, who also made the majors at age 19 but wasn’t as good as Soto, batting .270 with an .817 OPS.

Those comparisons are not meant to diminish Realmuto, who has — over time — developed into one of the better catchers in the major leagues, or Harper, who is a superstar in the game. Rather, the comparisons are to show how amazing Soto has been so far this season.

On Sunday, Soto figures to again be in left field as the Nationals (52-52) go for a series win over the Marlins (45-61). Washington is in third place in the National League East, winning the first two games of this four-game series.

Miami, however, won Saturday’s game on a walk-off single by Realmuto in the 10th inning, foiling a strategy in which the Nationals moved Harper from right field to first base and played a five-man infield.

Realmuto’s bloop single fell where Harper would have been positioned.

“I thought it was going to be a sacrifice fly,” Realmuto said. “But (the Harper switch) definitely helped.”

The Nationals on Sunday will start right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.44 ERA) against Miami right-hander Jose Urena (2-10, 4.63 ERA).

Washington is due to get third baseman Anthony Rendon back in the lineup. Rendon, who missed the past three games on paternity leave while he and his wife welcomed their first child into the world, has had a strong year offensively. He is batting .284 with 15 home runs, 25 doubles, and an .861 OPS.

In addition to Rendon coming back, Sunday should mark the return to the starting lineup of right fielder Adam Eaton, who is batting .312 with an .820 OPS in 45 games. He was rested at the start of Saturday as the Nationals are being cautious. Eaton has played only 68 games since the start of 2016 because of injuries.

As for the pitching matchup, the Nationals have won eight of Hellickson’s past 11 starts. However, he has only two quality starts out of 14 appearances this year. In fact, those two starts — at the San Diego Padres and at the New York Mets — were the only times this year he has pitched at least six innings.

Hellickson has been very comfortable on the road this year with a 4-1 record and a 2.83 ERA in 10 starts.

Other Hellickson numbers to digest: He has a 5.40 ERA in six starts since June 1, and has a no-decision but an 18.00 ERA in his one start against Miami this year.

Hellickson allowed nine runs (eight earned) in four innings in that game July 5, but his offense bailed him out as the Nationals rallied for a 14-12 victory.

Urena, meanwhile, is 0-8 with a 4.65 ERA in 13 starts at Marlins Park this year.

Last year, Urena was 5-5 with a 3.21 ERA at home, making what has happened to him this year even more confounding.

Urena has faced the Nationals nine times in his career (three starts) and is 1-2 with a 5.08 ERA against them since breaking into the majors as a reliever in 2015.

This year, Urena has a no-decision and a 6.00 ERA in his one start against the Nationals. Then again, very little has gone right this year for Urena, who has failed to reach the sixth inning in his past five starts. In fact, he has allowed 10 runs over eight innings his last two times out.