First MLB hits? Cool. Back to back? Wow!

September 27th, 2020

Getting a hit in a first Major League at-bat is rare enough, but the Angels saw both prospect and longtime Minor League veteran connect on their first career hits in their first big league at-bats in back-to-back plate appearances against Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin in the third inning on Saturday night.

It helped spark a four-run inning to take an early lead, but it wasn’t enough in a 7-6 loss that featured a 35-minute power outage in the seventh inning. It dropped the Angels to 26-33 heading into the final game of the year Sunday, but it was still a pair of cool moments for Jones and Soto.

Jones started at second base and went 1-for-4 and also reached on an error in the ninth. Soto handled shortstop and went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double and two runs scored.

"My roots are deeply embedded in development, so to get the chance to do that for some young players like this, it's pretty exciting," Angels manager Joe Maddon said of writing them into the lineup. "They are outstanding people. They fought hard, especially Elliot to get to this moment. So that's never lost on me. I appreciate it strongly."

Jones, ranked as the club’s No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline, was called up before the game when hit the injured list with a right hamstring strain. Jones, 23, appeared in a game on Aug. 31 as a pinch-runner but had never had an at-bat in the big leagues. But Jones, a second-round pick by the Angels in 2015, didn’t waste any time, jumping on a first-pitch fastball and dropping it into center for an RBI single to score .

"It was a surreal feeling honestly," Jones said. "Going from [the alternate training site in] Long Beach to being part of the playoff taxi squad, and then getting the call late last night that I would be activated and recalled and getting my first start, it's a lot of emotions running through me, but a lot of excitement."

Two pitches later after Jones’ first hit, Soto smacked an 0-1 fastball from Gonsolin into right for his first career Major League hit after playing 10 seasons in the Minor Leagues. Soto, 31, made his debut as a pinch-runner on Friday to replace Rengifo, but pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning. Soto was signed as a Minor League free agent in the offseason and said his perseverance got him to this point.

"I just never wanted to give up," Soto said. "I'm a cucaracha. A cockroach. I never die."

Soto also made a nice defensive play in the fourth inning on a broken-bat slow roller from Chris Taylor. Soto made a barehanded grab and an off-balance throw to get Taylor, as the original safe call was overturned.

"You saw how good of a player he is," Maddon said. "What you saw tonight is no fluke. That's what he looks like using the whole field offensively. You saw the incredible acrobatic defensive play. He's a good baseball player."

Jones and Soto became the first players in club history to collect their first career hits in consecutive at-bats. They are also the first Major Leaguers to do so since Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge for the Yankees on Aug. 13, 2016, against the Rays.

Jones and Soto were locker mates at the alternate site in Long Beach, and it made even more special for the duo, as they came from different backgrounds and took different paths to the Majors but have developed a friendship and now have a night they’ll always remember.

"That's my guy," Jones said. "It's definitely a thing that we talked about from Day 1 in Spring Training. We just helped each other, and I really leaned on him, as somebody that had a lot more experience than I did in the sport. It's something special for both of us to get hits in our first ABs. Both of us will never forget."