Soto goes oppo in debut for first home run in pinstripes

February 25th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- It was ’s third trip to home plate Sunday afternoon, and the outfielder eyed a pitch out of the strike zone, gyrating into his famed “Soto Shuffle” theatrics. The next offering was more inviting, a high fastball, and it was one that he wouldn’t miss.

Soto dented the left-field scoreboard for a three-run home run, authoring a memorable moment in his Yankees spring debut as the Bombers opened their home Grapefruit League slate with a 12-6 win over the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

“You want to be out there; you want to get that feeling of the Yankees fans,” Soto said. “You always hear about them. I want to see how it’s going to feel to have them on my back, cheering for me instead of booing me. So I think it’s been pretty good.”

Soto’s Statcast-projected 428-foot blast came off right-hander Trevor Richards, an opposite-field shot on a 90.7 mph fastball. It came off the slugger’s bat at 110.1 mph, according to Statcast.

“At Yankee Stadium and here, you’ve got basically 400 feet out there to left-center,” said Yankees captain Aaron Judge. “It’s one of the deepest in the game. So for him to take that pitch like he did and hit it the other way, and with ease -- you don’t see too many lefties doing that.”

“It was a bomb,” said left-hander Carlos Rodón. “Great swing. He knows what he’s doing up there, that’s for sure.”

One day after a different Yankees lineup put up 22 runs against Tigers pitching in Lakeland, Fla., a representative and new-look top half of the Bombers' order showed its promise, with manager Aaron Boone taking Judge’s advice to bat Soto second.

Boone has left some wiggle room in the leadoff spot, where he envisions Alex Verdugo as DJ LeMahieu’s understudy. But for the most part, it is expected to be Soto second and Judge third.

“Those guys put the ball in play, they get on, they get into scoring position,” Judge said. “It makes my job easy. Especially Soto, he’s a guy that’s going to walk, he’s going to hit balls off the scoreboard. He’s just going to make it tough. When you stack up good at-bat after good at-bat like that, you wear down the starting pitchers, you wear down guys’ bullpens.”

The early returns Sunday seemed to agree. In the home half of the first inning, Verdugo led off with a double, advanced to third base on a Soto groundout and scored on Judge’s single to center field. Anthony Rizzo followed with a double before a Gleyber Torres groundout knocked in another run.

“Any part of this lineup that you hit in is going to be great,” Soto said. “We have so many good players.”

The Yanks were moving runners again in the third inning. Soto worked a full-count walk from reliever Mitch White, then advanced to third base on a Judge double. A Rizzo groundout and Torres sacrifice fly each produced a run.

“I’m excited, man,” Judge said. “It’s just what we’ve seen for years out of [Soto]. Just impressive at-bats; every single pitch has intent. He’s trying to do some damage, and if anything isn’t in the strike zone, he takes it pretty easy. I’m impressed by the first day, that’s for sure.”

A three-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger celebrated for his patience and power, the 25-year-old Soto was acquired from the Padres in December with outfielder Trent Grisham in exchange for catcher Kyle Higashioka and pitchers Jhony Brito, Michael King, Drew Thorpe and Randy Vásquez.

Judge has made it a point to welcome Soto. The superstars have shared many laughs already in their batting practice group, laying the groundwork for what promises to be a fun summer together.

Of his budding relationship with Judge, Soto said: “It’s even better than what I expected. I knew he was a great guy, but I didn’t know he was that good.”

“He’s a New York Yankee,” Judge said. “His first year here, I wanted to make it a good one. I want it to be his best year. If he’s feeling right and he’s doing his thing, that’s only going to take us one step closer to a World Series.”