Future Dodger? Juan Soto, lowly Nats cool off LA in 4-1 win

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Dodgers fans made their feelings known as Juan Soto stepped into the batter’s box, just in case the Washington Nationals star didn’t get their message at the All-Star Game.

“Future Dodger!” the crowd of 48,647 chanted. They heartily applauded Soto in his first at-bat.

Whether he ends up in LA or not, Soto put on a show.

His two-run triple capped a four-run fifth inning and the lowly Washington Nationals defeated the NL West-leading Dodgers 4-1 on Monday night, snapping Los Angeles’ 11-game home winning streak.

“Our best player, Soto, comes up with a big hit and drove in some runs,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said. “It was a big moment for Juan to come through.”

The Nationals (33-65) brought the worst record in the majors into Dodger Stadium, where they won for the first time since the 2019 NL Division Series, against the team with baseball’s best record (64-31). The Dodgers’ season-high eight-game overall winning streak ended.

“They shut down a really good team,” Martinez said of his bullpen. “Guys played with a lot of energy.”

Soto said before the game he’s trying not to think about the trade talk swirling around him ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline. The chatter isn’t affecting him at the plate. Soto is batting .362 with a 1.260 OPS this month, including six homers, a triple and two doubles.

The 23-year-old All-Star right fielder left his trophy from winning last week’s Home Run Derby in the visitors’ clubhouse, knowing that he’d soon be back here. It rested on a wheeled trunk in the middle of the room with a gold link chain wrapped around it and Derby Champ spelled out in platinum.

The Nationals haven’t signaled that they’re looking to unload the left-handed hitter with a .248 average and .895 OPS. But that hasn’t stopped the growing speculation, especially after Soto turned down a long-term contract offer worth $440 million.

“We don’t need anything but I stand by any team can always get better,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said when asked about Soto before the game. “Juan is a very talented player.”

Soto finished 2 for 4 with a strikeout and a walk. He chatted up former Nats teammate Trea Turner, with whom he stays in regular contact.

The Nationals batted around in the fifth when Yadiel Hernandez led off with an opposite-field solo shot over the wall in left that tied the game 1-1.

“It just created more excitement in the bullpen,” Hernandez said through a translator.

After two quick outs, Tony Gonsolin (11-1) gave up four straight base hits in his first defeat of the season and his first start since taking the loss for the NL in the All-Star Game. Ehire Adrianza and Victor Robles singled back-to-back before Cesar Hernandez hit a bloop single inside the third-base line to make it 2-1.

“He still is terrific,” Martinez said of Gonsolin. “He’s got good stuff.”

Soto’s two-run triple over the first-base bag scored two runs to extend Washington’s lead to 4-1.

The Dodgers had the tying runs on base in the bottom of the inning. Max Muncy and Gavin Lux singled back-to-back off Nats starter Paolo Espino. Andres Machado (1-0) came in to strike out Cody Bellinger before walking Trayce Thompson to load the bases. Mookie Betts took a called third strike and Turner lined out to right for the third out.

“I like coming in that situation,” Machado said.

Kyle Finnegan pitched the ninth to earn his third save.

Washington loaded the bases in a messy eighth for Reyes Moronta, who threw 31 pitches and just 15 for strikes. He had two wild pitches and hit Keibert Ruiz before Robles struck out to end the threat.

The Dodgers had the potential tying run at the plate in the eighth. Turner and Jake Lamb singled before Carl Edwards Jr. struck out Muncy for the third out.

Hitting in the ninth spot, Thompson went deep with two strikes and two outs in the third for a 1-0 lead.

Turner’s ground-rule double to deep center in the fourth extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Freddie Freeman went 0 for 4 with a strikeout to end his 12-game hitting streak.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Dodgers: 3B Justin Turner (abdomen) could return Tuesday or Wednesday. … RHP Brusdar Graterol (shoulder) played catch but there’s no timetable for him to get on a mound. … OF Chris Taylor (foot) will have a rehab assignment next week. … RHP Walker Buehler (elbow) played catch for the first time since his flexor strain injury last month.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Josiah Gray (7-6, 4.40 ERA) makes his second career start against his former team. He made his MLB debut at Dodger Stadium last July against the Giants.

Dodgers: RHP Mitch White (1-2, 3.78) faces the Nationals for the first time in his career.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.