Nationals

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Before Game 2 of the Nationals-Braves series, Washington left fielder Juan Soto spotted his counterpart Ronald Acuña, Jr. leaving the Atlanta dugout.

Soto immediately wandered over, and the two young stars started chopping it up, continuing the banter for so long that Soto almost missed his turn in the batting cage.

The scene isn’t much different from the first time they met, or at least in the way Soto described it.

“I didn’t know him when I got up here in the MLB,” Soto said. “I played against him my first road trip. I’d see him and I’d see he’s really nice. So I go over there and say, ‘Hi’ and we just start talking and having fun.”

Fun seems to be a theme for these two.

Take Friday night’s game, for example.

In the first inning, Acuña rocked Stephen Strasburg’s second pitch to left field. Soto tracked it down, made a leaping grab against the wall, and shot a smile back to Strasburg and home plate.

“We just laugh at it,” Soto said. “I caught it, and a couple innings later [Acuña] told me, ‘Hey, whatchu doin?’ I said ‘Hey, we just playin’ baseball.’”

But Acuña doesn’t mind the teasing.

“During the game, we’ll give each other looks and motion about whatever happened,” Acuña said, through an interpreter. “That’s the good part. Because I’ll have the opportunity to return the favor if he ever hits it my way.”

The opportunity didn't come Saturday, but Acuña and the Braves did get the 13-9 win.

Though pitted against each other as National League East rivals, Acuña and Soto continue to grow in their friendship. They text messages of well-wishes often, and Soto was sure to congratulate Acuña on signing a historical deal earlier this year.

And in an age of supreme youth in baseball, the two outfielders continue to grow on the field.

 

Soto and Acuña are the third- and fifth-youngest players, respectively, on active MLB rosters. Neither player is older than 21. But, both players surpassed the 180th game of their careers this month, a handy measuring stick for weighing them against each other.

Here are their career numbers:

Soto: 181 games, .295 avg, .403 OBP, .517 SLG, 33 HR, 113 RBI, 121 runs

Acuña: 186 games, .292 avg, .368 OBP, .530 SLG, 43 HR, 113 RBI, 128 runs

Those figures put them in the company of several Hall of Famers.

The two prodigies are forever linked by their rookie seasons. Acuña won the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year Award, with Soto the runner-up by 55 votes.

They learned the results of the vote while together in Japan, as part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star team – an appropriate example of how intertwined their careers have been.

The Nats youngster said it’s hard to avoid comparisons.

“We just try to put that away – how other people talk,” Soto said. “They tried to make us fight last year because of the Rookie of the Year. But we just forget about it. We just try to play baseball and be friends and have fun.”

Fans will be fortunate to see Acuña and Soto playing head-to-head for seasons to come. But Acuña wants the attention directed beyond this NL East duo.

“It’s great to see all the young players continue to develop,” Acuña said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to play each other for many years.”

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