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Juan Soto uses the 'Soto Shuffle' to psych out the opposition

Juan Soto uses the 'Soto Shuffle' to psych out the opposition

It’s an indelible image to Nats fans everywhere. Their prodigious young superstar Juan Soto stands in at the plate against a tough left-handed reliever in a big spot late in the game. He lays off a tough breaking ball low and away, his body leaning in toward the pitch. Then, while crouched over, he squares his body toward the pitcher, shuffling his feet while curling a small smile at the mound.

The “Soto Shuffle” is somehow both respectful and disrespectful, fun and serious, and lighthearted and cold-blooded.

“That started in the minor leagues,” Soto explained Wednesday when asked about his pitch-taking routine. “I like to get in the minds of the pitchers because sometimes they get scared. In the minor leagues some pitchers get scared, they say, ‘oh, wow,’ because [they’ve] never [seen] that before. I just try to get on their minds and all this stuff.”

Of course, young minor league pitchers are a little more likely than MLB All-Stars to be scared off by a little dance from an opposing batter, but that hasn’t stopped Soto from bringing the move to the big leagues. He has made an effort to pick his spots, though.

“I still do it here in the big leagues,” he continued. “A couple of the guys tell me, ‘hey, you can keep doing it, but do it in the right situation’ and that's what I'm trying right now. Because in those tight moments everybody's paying attention, everybody wants to get the job done and if you get a little bit of that and get a little bit comfortable with that, and confidence to get the job done, you get one step in front.”

Surprisingly, neither Fangraphs nor Baseball-Reference offer statistics for “Juan Soto at-bats in which he shuffles at the pitcher,” but anecdotally it sure feels like the young outfielder comes through in these big moments with regularity. He notably brought out the shuffle during his eventual game-winning at-bat in the eighth inning of this year’s Wild Card Game.

“It fuels my confidence,” Soto admitted. That confidence is clearly a crucial ingredient for any professional athlete, and Soto certainly isn’t the first player to find ways to psyche himself up in important moments.

The reactions from opposing pitchers can be varied. For Soto, most see it for what it is: Soto hyping himself up, not attempting to show up the pitcher.

So, who had the funniest reaction to the little dance?

“It was last year,” Soto answered when asked about the weirdest reaction he’d seen. “I did [it] against [current teammate Anibal] Sanchez and when I did it against him, he just started laughing on the mound. I mean, I start laughing too.”

Soto appreciated how Sanchez, then a member of the rival Atlanta Braves, had fun with it. In fact, it may have helped his now teammate, if you ask Soto.

“He just started laughing and he couldn't stop, he just kept going,” Soto continued while smiling. “He saw me and he just took that thing in the right way. And that was one of the pitchers that I never get a hit against him, because he just stayed relaxed and he just enjoyed it. He likes when I do this, so I start, I just stopped doing it against him, but he keeps going and he just started laughing at it. And when he don't pitch he just saw me in the dugout and he just started doing it to me, and I'm like, that was, that was the best reaction that I have received.”

The “Soto Shuffle” is a small move coming from a big-name player and something that Nationals fans everywhere love seeing in huge moments. Hopefully, for them, we haven’t seen the last of it in 2019.

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SEE IT: Nationals players finally receive their World Series rings

SEE IT: Nationals players finally receive their World Series rings

The day came about three months later than we expected, but Nationals players finally received their 2019 World Series Championship rings Thursday.

Patrick Corbin and Adam Eaton were the first to share their new jewelry on Instagram.

"I don't think that's going to fit on my finger!" Eaton said right after he opened the ring box. 

The Nationals originally planned to hold a virtual ring ceremony to give fans and players a chance to enjoy such a momentous moment, but they later altered that plan following feedback from the players. Instead, they decided to unveil their championship rings. 

RELATED: TREA TURNER NEVER CONSIDERED SITTING OUT SEASON

The 2020 season was delayed before it could begin thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, preventing the Nationals from holding a proper ring ceremony and banner unveiling in front of a sold-out Nats Park.

With two weeks to go before a 60-game regular-season schedule begins, the team has reconnected to get ready for an abbreviated title defense. Under the circumstances, this was the time to do it. 

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Carter Kieboom is now focused on keeping his job

Carter Kieboom is now focused on keeping his job

Carter Kieboom was back in a batter’s box Wednesday to face Max Scherzer. He faced him once before, back at spring training in 2017, and struck out. How did it go Wednesday?

“Same outcome,” Kieboom said with a smile.

He’s able to laugh in the moment as the Major League Baseball season resumes. Kieboom is the starting third baseman for the defending World Series champions. Being granted the position is the first step in the 22-year-old’s full-time work in Major League Baseball. He was an injury replacement at shortstop for an 11-game spell last season. This year, he’s mandated with taking over the spot vacated when a 2019 MVP finalist moved on.

In spring training, the third base job was part of a competition between Kieboom and Asdrúbal Cabrera. Martinez gave the job to Kieboom to start “Summer Camp.” When he received the news, Kieboom had a singular thought: “Keep the job.”

RELATED: TREA TURNER CALLS 2020 SEASON A 'FLUID SITUATION'

To do so, all aspects of his game at the major-league level need to improve. That, of course, is a general expectation of anyone entering their first starting position in the big leagues. Kieboom’s small, bumpy, sample size of work from last season will either end up harbinger or outlier. The Nationals suspect it’s the latter.

Primary among his development is his defense. In particular, his footwork at third base. Kieboom practiced individually at home from mid-March, when spring training ended, until work in Washington resumed this week. His preference would have been to be playing actual games, but he thinks the time to relentlessly drill could end up being beneficial.

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"I totally agree with that,” Kieboom said. “I think it's very easy to kind of throw the towel in and get frustrated that you're so close to a season and it all gets washed away the way it did. It kind of was a blessing in disguise because I found some things I was doing in spring training I didn't really care for from the offensive side and the defensive side. I can continue to work on those. Footwork, I have to keep working on my footwork. It bought me some more time to keep working on that, hone that craft. And offensively the same thing, I got to make some adjustments and kind of go back to the drawing board at home and work on those things."

His time now is limited. The season is two weeks away. The Nationals lost their Monday workout window. They were able to face live pitching Wednesday. Thursday will be a quiet day. Friday will resume full workouts. Next Monday, practices will shift to the evenings, one more small step toward emulating the rapidly-approaching season.

Then, eventually on July 23, Carter Kieboom will be standing at third base.

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