Soto had suffered a slight oblique strain and missed two starts. Because of the injury, Soto was held to pitch counts until he regained his full stamina. Yet even a pitch count did not keep Soto from pitching his gem.
"We've been taking our time and being easy with him," Pitts explained, "but he came out really focused and threw the ball down, got a lot of ground balls early, quick innings, and got ahead. That's the main thing. He threw first pitch strikes. He had all three pitches working for him. So if you throw like that, you're going to get a lot of people out. Let your defense work for you and that's what he did."
Recovering from injuries is something Soto has unfortunately learned to deal with. After a solid professional debut, he suffered a major setback in his first season in Staten Island in 2004.
"In Brooklyn, I went just four innings," Soto described the day of the injury, "and then in the fourth inning, I get the pop in my shoulder and then I have the surgery." Then he pointed to a scar along his inner elbow. "Tommy John [surgery]."
Those three words can doom a pitcher's career and, at the least, steal a year of it for rehab. Soto missed much of the 2004 season after he underwent the procedure. He returned to the mound last year in the GCL, but his elbow still was not at full strength. Soto says he felt hesitant throwing all of his pitches last year because of the surgery, but the discomfort is gone this season. Now he can freely throw all his pitches, which include a 73-74 MPH curveball, a high 70's change-up, and a fastball from 88 to 92 MPH.
"I feel much, much better this year," Soto said. "More than last year because last year I felt something there or was just thinking that. But this year it's completely normal."
"Normally guys take a year when they had Tommy John so they can get it out of their head," pitching coach Carlos Chantres said. "Right now, he's throwing the ball well. I know it's only one start, but we can go from there. It's very important to him to key off that start and continue making those adjustments so he continues here and not only here but in the higher levels."
"It was my mechanics and my release point and then it was just me," Soto explained. "Sometimes I lost my [confidence]. I didn't believe in me. And then I was a little bit scared and I throw right down the middle and they hit it to the barns. And then I think, just let it go, that mentality, and have a good mentality, positive, so I'm working on that."
Pitching coach Chantres revealed some of the mechanical changes Soto worked on after his demotion.
"His balance was [just] okay," Chantres said, "so we worked a little bit on balance and then going out with his front leg first. Leading out with his lower half instead of carrying his whole body towards the plate. So we've been working on letting his leg go first so his arm can catch up."
However, Chantres pointed out that boosting confidence is the best way to improve someone's game.
"Basically what it was more than anything was trusting his stuff," Chantres said. "We worked on a couple of things delivery wise, but more than anything just trusting his stuff. His two-seamer was great. He was staying on his pitches and getting ahead. Once you get ahead, it's a little easier. You finish guys off and pitch the way he did."
The two-seam fastball is a pitch that Soto has worked on since he came to Staten Island and both he and his pitching coach credit it for the dominant start.
"We were working with my two-seamer fastball away and that was it," Soto explained of the outing. "Just keep the ball down, keep the ball low. Every time I had the count, I was ahead of the hitter. I was working on that and in the bullpen before, and it was working in the game."
"Huge improvement," Chantres said of the two-seamer's development. "That's mostly what he threw to righties. But that's the thing. He's not the type of guy who's going to overpower you. Yeah, he throws 91-92, but it's not really an explosive fastball. It's a good fastball but he needs movement on it. And we've been working on the two-seamer and I think it would be best if he retains his two-seamer."
Now that Soto has shown his manager what he is capable of, Pitts would like to see more of it in the second-half of the season.
"Be consistent, just like he was the other night," Pitts listed as his goal for Soto. "Instead of 3 out of 5 starts consistent, I'd like to see 4 out of 5. That's how you get ahead in this game is consistency and production. You don't do it by having one quality start, then one bad one, then one so-so, one bad one. You have to have 4 out of 5 at least and that's what we're striving for."
Soto understands the need for consistency, but he is not content to do it in Staten Island. Now in his fourth professional season, he realizes he has missed a lot of time and is aiming high.
"Back to Charleston," Soto listed as his goal for the second-half. "Or maybe the other teams in the high levels. Just keep going up, and that's my goal."
It has been a slow path for Soto, but hopefully his journey made him stronger and he will be better late than never.