Neftali Soto Adjusting to Hard Pitching in Pacific League; Foot Injury Kept Batter Off Feet Until Late December

Sports Hochi
The Marines’ Neftali Soto hits a solo homer in a preseason game against the Buffaloes on March 15 in Chiba.

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama — Neftali Soto has to watch his step – literally – as he adjusts to the Pacific League after six seasons in the Central League.

Soto made the jump from the Yokohama DeNA BayStars to the Chiba Lotte Marines as a free agent this past offseason, but he is still dealing with a foot injury that required surgery. Understandably, he’s taking things step by step.

“It was a kind of weird offseason. I couldn’t walk until Dec. 30,” the 35-year-old told The Japan News at Belluna Dome on April 10.

Soto, who hit 161 home runs and had 442 RBIs in his time with the BayStars, said he was physically unable to perform his normal routine. As a result, he lacked practice time when he reported to his new squad and is still studying the unfamiliar pitching in the PL.

Part of that process is getting used to a higher number of pitchers who he said bring the heat.

“There’s a lot of guys throwing cheese,” Soto quipped. “So that’s the main difference.

“In the Central, you see some guys that throw hard, but it’s not on a regular basis. Here, I feel like everybody throws hard.”

Japan’s hardest thrower is his new teammate Roki Sasaki. The highly coveted fifth-year righty is on the radar of many major league teams after hitting a high of 165 kph on the speed gun about a year ago — tying Shohei Ohtani for the fastest pitch by a Japanese pitcher.

“We faced him last year and the year before, but I faced him only one time,” the infielder said.

“I want to see him the whole season,” said Soto, who isn’t much different from the fans when it comes to his level of anticipation to watch Sasaki throw.

“Great talent. Great stuff. It’s going to be exciting.”

The excitement for Soto these days comes when he’s in the batter’s box, where he is hitting .317 with a home run and seven RBIs in the early going.

The Puerto Rican is still in rehab mode because of his injured foot, but he expects to be out in the field at first base with a great view of Sasaki as the Marines try to make a march toward the PL Climax Series playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.