Year after year, some of Major League Baseball's best power hitters decline the invitation to participate in the annual Home Run Derby, fearful that the event will ruin or throw off the mechanics of their swing.
This year, though, Nationals star Juan Soto chose to participate in the event for the exact opposite reason: hoping the derby would fix his swing.
So far, so good. In three games since Soto competed in the derby, the 22-year-old outfielder is 7-for-13 with a double and three home runs. After Sunday's 8-7 win over the Padres, Soto credited the derby with helping him return to hitting the ball with power.
"I just feel so much better now," Soto told reporters on Sunday. "I think the derby helped me out big time."
In the first half of the season, Soto launched just 11 home runs, the lowest of any contestant in the derby. He entered the All-Star break leading the league in the number of times grounding into a double play, already passing career-highs in that category for an entire season.
Make no mistake about it: Soto was hitting the ball hard in the first half of the season. It was just going straight into the ground.
After competing in the derby -- where he hit a total of 46 home runs and knocked off the event favorite Shohei Ohtani in the first round -- Soto said he regained that feeling of how to drive the ball in the air.
"I was thinking about it, and it really helped me a little bit get that feeling of how to put the ball in the air and everything," Soto said. "I tried everything I could in the first half, and the ball still was going to the ground. I just [had] to find a way to put the ball in the air."
Since returning from the derby, Soto has also pulled the ball with power, something he had struggled to do for the past two months. The outfielder hit a pair of home runs on Friday to the right-center part of Nationals Park, the first time he pulled a home run since mid-May.
Soto is one of the best hitters in baseball at using the entire field, which is something he put on display in the derby, too. On Sunday, in typical Soto fashion, he hit a go-ahead opposite-field home run in the eighth inning that just crept over the left-field wall.
After competing in the Derby, Soto has felt and looked more confident at the plate. But even he was impressed by his own power numbers this past weekend.
"It’s just kind of impressive, though, because I didn’t realize how quickly it was going to help me out," Soto said. "To see those homers in this series, it was great for me. I think it was impressive."