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Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto knows what intentional walks mean: Respect

“Respect.” - Juan Soto’s reaction to getting intentionally walked.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays took the bat out Juan Soto’s hands twice on Tuesday night, in the 22-year-old slugger’s return to the lineup after the Washington Nationals’ outfielder missed a total of four games with a sore elbow.

With a runner in scoring position and two out in the fourth, Rays’ reliever Aaron Slegers put Soto on intentionally and got out of the inning when Kurt Suzuki sent a fly to left field.

Suzuki grounded out after the second intentional walk for Soto in the sixth with a runner on third.

Those IBBs were the fourth and fifth for Soto this season, tied for the MLB lead with Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper (as of Wednesday night).

Soto grounded out with a runner on third the first time up, bringing in a run, and singled and scored the second time up. He finished the night 1 for 2 with the two walks.

On the season, he now has a .356/.463/.752 line with seven doubles, 11 home runs, 19 walks, and just 16 Ks in 28 games and 121 plate appearances, over which he’s been worth 1.4 fWAR.

Soto’s thoughts on the Rays walking him intentionally rather than pitch to him with runners on?

“Respect,” he said. “They respect the four-hole hitter. I just feel good about it. Every time I can be on base, try to help my team as much as I can. I’ll take it every time. Every walk, I’ll take it, I don’t mind.”

Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters it was nothing new.

“It’s bound to happen,” Martinez said. “Juan is just hitting the ball really well. We knew that was eventually going to happen.

“Those other guys got to pick him up, that’s all they gotta do. We’re trying to find someone to hit behind him with Howie [Kendrick] being out.

“It’s tough but I liked [Suzuki] tonight hitting behind him.

“They walked him, it’s going to happen, but I told him I said it’s just part of the game. He understands it, he pulls for the guys behind him to drive him in, that’s what we do.”

“I’ve seen a lot of great hitters get walked,” Martinez added. “When I was with Chicago we walked [Bryce] Harper four times in one game.”

The Cubs, under Joe Maddon’s guidance, with Martinez as his bench coach, actually walked Harper intentionally three times in one game in that 2016 series, four times in the four-game series, and walked him 13 times total including unintentional free passes in the games in Wrigley Field.

“When you can hit, that’s going to happen,” Martinez continued. “Like I said, I tell him all the time that’s part of it, just be ready, when they pitch to you be ready, do your damage then.”

Aníbal Sánchez, who started against the Rays on Tuesday night, walked Soto once in six plate appearances between them before the pitcher signed on with the Nationals.

“I think Soto is different,” Sánchez said when asked about the Rays’ approach.

“This guy he’s shown in the last three years that he’s in the show that he is an unbelievable hitter. He deserves that respect. He won that respect from the other team.

“He’s unbelievable at the plate, and if I’m the manager right now for any team, that’s the guy that I’m not going to let that guy win, and that’s why he got an intentional walk any time he is in the batter’s box.”

“And also my son loves him,” Sánchez added as an aside.

Soto took the intentional walks from the Rays in stride.

“For me, what can I tell you, I just take another walk, try to be on base, try to score, that’s how I look at it,” he said.

“They don’t want to pitch to me, they’re just respecting my bat, I feel really good, and let’s see what my teammates come up [with].”

Soto served as the designated hitter in his return to the lineup, and said afterwards that his elbow felt fine after it started to bother him out of nowhere last week.

“It feels good. Swinging, everything, it feels well. Running. It feels good right now, it feels almost normal,” he said.

At this point though, he still isn’t sure what caused the issue, and said that there was no one play or instance that started the problem.

“Not at all,” Soto explained. “I just feel like that the night before, and I just came to the field and I don’t know how it started the pain or anything. I played the game, I played in the game, I don’t feel anything in the game, and next day I’m like, I can’t even move my arm.”