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Juan Soto already embodying who the Yankees want to be: ‘He’s a dawg’

HOUSTON – Always colorful with his choice of words, Alex Verdugo wasted no time when asked what he thought of Juan Soto’s first four games with the Yankees.

“Dawg!” Verdugo said. “Let’s just put it like that. He’s a dawg! I can’t say nothing else. We’re dawgs out here.”

Indeed, the Yankees were in their season-opening series, a four-game sweep of the rival Astros in Houston. The first three wins were of the comeback variety, while Sunday’s contest required late heroics on both sides of the ball.

Soto, the jewel of the Yankees’ offseason, fittingly found himself at the center of it all.

On Opening Day, the right fielder saved the game with his arm, gunning down the Astros’ Mauricio Dubón at home plate in the ninth inning of a 5-4 win. Soto also had an RBI single and two walks — one came after eight pitches — in the contest.

“That was a Yankee classic right there,” Aaron Judge said of his fellow superstar’s debut.

“You always expect him to do great things,” Nestor Cortes added.

On Friday, Soto followed up with three hits, a double, an RBI, a walk and another nice play in right. That served as a mere preview for Saturday’s showing, when the slugger’s first home run as a Yankee, an opposite-field blast into the Crawford Boxes, provided the go-ahead run.

“He’s so great, and he’s a killer,” manager Aaron Boone remarked after the dinger. “You can sense that he loves the competition at the highest level.”

Added Marcus Stroman: “He’s gonna be one of those guys I’m talking about when I’m a granddad that I got to play with him.”

But Soto wasn’t done yet, and neither were the Yankees.

With a sweep within reach on Sunday, the lefty-hitting Soto stepped to the plate against Astros closer and former Padres teammate Josh Hader in the ninth. A slingshotting southpaw, Hader is a nightmare matchup for port-side swingers.

Well, most of them anyway.

“You feel good when he’s up there,” Verdugo said after Soto shot a single the other way for the go-ahead run in a 4-3 win. “I won’t lie to you, man. You feel really good. He’s one of those guys that he’s just special, man. It doesn’t matter lefty, righty. The way he controls the zone and knows himself and doesn’t let the moment get too big in any moment at all, it’s very impressive. I’m happy that he’s on our team.”

Soto may not feel the pressure of these moments, but he certainly lives for them. As he ran to first on the game-winning single, he exuded emotion, screaming, tossing his bat and pounding the “New York” lettering that now graces his chest.

Similar displays could be seen throughout the series, as Soto gave the Yankees a taste of not only his ability, but also his swagger and confidence.

“I always want to be up in that situation,” he said Sunday. “That’s what we play for. We all know there’s gonna be times that we do fail, and sometimes you’re gonna have success. But I always want to be up there. I don’t mind to be up there and get all the boos or all the claps. I’m always ready for it.”

With four games in the books, Soto is now hitting .529 with a 1.365 OPS. He’s already checked off a few boxes, collecting his first Yankees homer and multiple signature moments.

He’s also had a clear impact on the rest of the lineup, to the point where Boone called Soto “a missing element” from last year’s underachieving squad.

With a rep for treating every at-bat like a war against pitchers, Soto’s mindset seems to be rubbing off on his teammates. The Yankees made Astros pitchers work all weekend and totaled 21 walks during the series.

Soto, who led the league in free passes last year, contributed three of those walks and few lengthy at-bats throughout the four games.

“He’s a generational talent, the way he approaches the game,” Stroman said. “The way that he never gives away an at-bat, it’s incredible. I feel like he never even gives away a pitch. So to have someone that’s that locked in each and every time in the lineup, no pitcher wants to face that.”

Boone, meanwhile, said that Soto “embodies what we want to be. It’s a fight every time he walks into the batter’s box.”

That challenge will be awaiting the Yankees’ rivals all year. Whether Soto’s stay lasts longer remains to be seen, as the 25-year-old is slated for free agency after the season.

In the meantime, the Yankees will enjoy whatever they get out of the All-Star, which should be plenty. They are already reaping rewards from their blockbuster deal with San Diego.

Soto, meanwhile, seems to be digging his new duds thus far. If nothing else, the results would certainly seem to say so.

“That’s the kind of start I wanted,” Soto said. “I grinded really hard this offseason and spring training to be successful in the beginning of the season. Thank God it’s happening my way.”


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