Nationals' Sanchez returns from IL to oppose Braves
Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto and Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. likely will be compared to each other for the rest of their careers.
The scrutiny will continue when the two exciting second-year players meet for the second time this year on Wednesday as the Nationals complete a two-game series in Atlanta. Each player had a single on Tuesday in Washington's 5-4 win.
The pitching matchup features Atlanta's Kevin Gausman (2-3, 4.33 ERA) against Washington's Anibal Sanchez (0-6, 5.10). Sanchez is set to return from the injured list after being sidelined since May 17 due to a left hamstring strain.
Acuna was an overwhelming winner of the 2018 Rookie of the Year award. He claimed 27 first-place votes. Soto finished second, picking up two of the other three first-place votes.
The two had similarly successful rookie seasons. Acuna batted .293 with 26 homers and 64 RBIs. Soto batted .292 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs. Acuna scored 78 runs, Soto scored 77. Acuna had more stolen bases (16-5), but Soto showed more patience by drawing more walks (79-45). Acuna had a 4.1 WAR, and Soto's WAR was 3.0.
Acuna, 21, is off to another solid start. He is batting .275 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs. He has flourished since being moved from cleanup to the leadoff spot on May 10. The team has won with Acuna hitting at the top of the lineup, too, going 12-5 since the move was made.
"I hope the energy I bring is going to be contagious when I'm at the bat, period," Acuna said. "I don't change my mentality at all."
Soto, 20, has a career-best 12-game hitting streak after going 1-for-4 on Tuesday. The hot streak -- 20-for-45 (.444) -- has helped him lift his average to .286. When play began on May 17, Soto was batting only .228. He is improving after putting in some hard work with hitting coach Kevin Long.
"The easier he swings, the more efficient his swing is," Long said.
Gausman has been a dependable starter for Atlanta since returning from the right shoulder tendinitis that caused him to miss the season's first week. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in five starts in May. He has 23 strikeouts and 11 walks in 24 innings this month.
Gausman pitched six effective innings at San Francisco on Thursday. He allowed three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six in a no-decision.
He has made six career starts against the Nationals, going 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA. Gausman started twice against Washington in 2018 and went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA. The win came on Sept. 14 in a so-so start that saw him allow four runs, three earned, in 5 2/3 innings.
Sanchez has not yet been able to duplicate the success he enjoyed last season with the Braves, when he went 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA and started a game in the playoffs. He lost five consecutive outings until leaving early in his May 16 start due to the hamstring injury.
Sanchez is 5-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 18 career appearances, all starts, against Atlanta.
In player movement, Atlanta activated outfielder Matt Joyce from the bereavement list on Tuesday, and he drew a walk as a seventh-inning pinch hitter.
--Field Level Media
Updated May 29, 2019