ST. LOUIS — Washington Nationals 20-year-old sophomore sensation Juan Soto has made headlines all season with his prolific production at the plate, but his between-pitch antics, when he often grabs his crotch, have become a topic of discussion as well.
In a crucial at-bat with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, Mikolas got Soto to ground out to first base, then waited near the first-base line as Soto handed his gear to his first-base coach. When Soto turned around, Mikolas made a quick gesture of his own.
Mikolas admitted to the gesture after the Nationals’ 2-0 victory but said it was in good fun.
“He has a routine where he shuffles around the box and adjusts his cup or whatnot, and I was just having fun out there, just kind of giving it back to him in a good-natured, ribbing kind of way,” he said. “There was no intent to be mean or start anything out there.”
Mikolas did say he waited for Soto to turn around.
“I wanted to wait for him to see me do it,” he said. “Kind of poking the bear a little bit. Again, just having fun with it. It’s one of those things he does. Hitters do all their stuff, so it’s fun as a pitcher to give it back to a hitter every once in a while.”
Soto didn’t sound amused by Mikolas’ taunt.
“To me it’s not good,” Soto said. “I don’t care. He can do whatever he wants. We’re going to keep going.”
Asked before the game about Soto’s routine and how veteran players around the league have responded to it, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said, “I said this before — at first when I saw him doing it, I thought, you know, it’s a little, you know. But then after talking to him and watching him, it’s a routine that he uses to get to the next pitch. I mean, when you talk to him, he really feels like that’s his batter’s box, he owns that batter’s box.
“And when he does that, it’s basically just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to get back in here and I’m going to get ready to hit the next pitch.’ If he misses one or whatever or if he takes one, it’s just his way of saying, ‘Hey, this is my batter’s box, it’s part of the game, we got a game, it’s me against you, and I’m going to try to beat you.'”
Cardinals Game 2 starter Adam Wainwright was also asked about Soto before Friday’s game.
“He does have a lot of things he does that make him uniquely different than everyone else,” Wainwright said. “I don’t know what else to say about that. I think his team probably loves the edge and the mentality that he brings to every single at-bat. Doesn’t seem like he gives too many at-bats away. So whatever he’s got to do mentally to get into the right spot to make good swings is what he’s going to do. And on my side of it, I’m going to do the exact same thing. So that’s the way he competes.”
In their division series against Atlanta, the Cardinals had some issues with Braves phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. after Acuna’s bat flip in Game 1. Acuna and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina exchanged gestures the rest of the series, with Molina making a throat-slash gesture after one victory in response to a similar gesture from Acuna the game before.
With Game 2 set for Saturday afternoon, it won’t be long before Soto and the Cardinals renew acquaintances.