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HOUSTON — That Juan Soto‘s first signature Yankee moment happened in his debut on Opening Day wasn’t far-fetched for a superstar with an uncanny ability to show out in the biggest moments.

But for that moment to happen on a game-saving defensive play? That wasn’t a part of the script anyone, at least on the outside, envisioned for Soto, whose defense has been a knock on him, especially over the past two seasons.

That’s what happened Thursday afternoon against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. With one out and two runners on in the ninth inning and the Yankees nursing a one-run lead, Kyle Tucker smashed a single to Soto in right field. Soto’s route to the ball was clean, he gathered it smoothly and let it rip — a one-hop missile to home plate that catcher Jose Trevino caught before spinning around to apply a difficult tag on Mauricio Dubon.

Soto pounded his chest and released a few screams. The play, confirmed after a lengthy review, prevented the Astros from tying the score and potentially snowballing the momentum to win it. Moments later, Clay Holmes closed the door, securing the Yankees’ 5-4 comeback victory.

Moments before the play, according to center fielder Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ outfielders had talked about the situation and how they had to come up throwing to save the game.

“That was a Yankee classic right there,” Judge said. “Juan’s debut, that was pretty special out of him.”

That debut also included typical Soto things. An eight-pitch walk in his first Yankees plate appearance. An RBI single in a tough lefty-on-lefty matchup against Framber Valdez. Another walk.

But the throw home was the difference.

“His process and work ethic and care factor about not just hitting, he takes a lot of pride in his defense,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He wants to be great on defense. He wants to be really good on the bases. And he made a big-time winning play today on defense.”

Defense has been the only blemish on Soto’s résumé. The data says he has been below average or worse in recent years, and the eyes confirmed it.

He knew improving was necessary to maximize not only his worth to the Yankees but in free agency next winter. So he made defense a priority in spring training.

The first step was acclimating himself to right field again after playing all 154 games last season in left field for the San Diego Padres — the routes, the throwing angles. Yankees third-base coach Luis Rojas was a resource.

That work paid off in the ninth inning Thursday.

“It’s just a great feeling,” Soto said. “It tells you I’m going the right way, what I’ve been doing, and I’m more excited to keep going.”

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Colorado lands former Pitt DE Hayes from portal

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Colorado lands former Pitt DE Hayes from portal

Former Pittsburgh defensive end Dayon Hayes announced Sunday that he is transferring to Colorado.

Hayes led Pitt in tackles for loss last season with 10.5 and also had 45 total tackles, four sacks and six quarterback hurries. He is a 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior who played the past four seasons for Pitt after signing with the team out of high school.

He is bringing some needed defensive help to Colorado, especially in getting to the quarterback and being disruptive up front. The Buffaloes were ranked No. 63 in sacks last season with 27 and No. 78 in defensive pressures with 139.

The staff has worked this offseason to add more help up front on the defensive side with Hayes and reuniting him with former Pitt teammate Samuel Okunlola, who is also transferring in to Colorado. In addition to those two, Colorado has former Alabama lineman Anquin Barnes, former LSU lineman Quency Wiggins, Arizona State‘s B.J. Green, Arkansas lineman Taurean Carter, Kentucky edge Keaten Wade, New Mexico State edge Nikhil Webb Walker and Houston lineman Chidozie Nwankwo entering the program.

The Buffaloes have brought in transfers in droves during coach Deion Sanders’ tenure at Colorado. The program finished the 2023 season with a 4-8 record.

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Frustrated Angels 3B Rendon lands on 10-day IL

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Frustrated Angels 3B Rendon lands on 10-day IL

The Los Angeles Angels placed Anthony Rendon on the 10-day injured list Sunday due to a left hamstring strain, adding another chapter to the third baseman’s checkered medical history with the team.

Rendon, 33, came up limping after legging out an infield hit to open the Angels’ game against the host Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

He left the game, with his single raising his batting average to .267 with no home runs, three RBIs and three stolen bases in 19 games. Rendon opened the season by going 0-for-19 in five games before batting .357 (20-for-56) over his last 14 games.

“[I’m feeling] not too great,” Rendon said after the game. “Frustration. Anger. Mad. Any of those adjectives you want to use.”

He said it’s frustrating to be hurt now that he’s heating up at the plate.

“I’m starting to barrel the ball more, and when I didn’t, I was just starting to find holes,” Rendon said. “Like earlier in the season, I was barreling it, and they were catching it. I think that’s the most frustrating part, I was getting into a groove and, of course, this happens.”

Rendon has not played more than 58 games in a season due to a variety of injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic since signing a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Angels.

Rendon was an All-Star while playing for the Washington Nationals in 2019. He finished third in the National League MVP voting in 2019. That season, he set career highs with a .319 batting average, 34 homers and 126 RBIs, the latter leading the majors along with 44 doubles.

For his career, Rendon is batting .283 with 158 homers and 660 RBIs in 1,135 games.

In a corresponding move Sunday, the Angels selected the contract of veteran infielder Ehire Adrianza from Triple-A Salt Lake.

Adrianza, 34, batted .238 in 616 career games for the San Francisco Giants (2013-16), Minnesota Twins (2017-20), Atlanta Braves (2021-22, 2023) and Nationals (2022).

In another move, right-hander Robert Stephenson. 31, was transferred to the 60-day IL on Sunday. The team had announced Thursday that he will undergo season-ending elbow surgery later this month.

Stephenson, who had signed a three-year contract worth $33 million in January, was placed on the IL on March 28.

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Astros’ Javier to go on IL with neck discomfort

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Astros' Javier to go on IL with neck discomfort

Houston Astros right-hander Cristian Javier will be placed on the 15-day injured list due to neck discomfort, manager Joe Espada told reporters Sunday.

Right-hander Spencer Arrighetti, who is 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA this season, will be recalled to take Javier’s spot in the rotation, Espada said.

Espada made the announcement after Javier had been scratched from Sunday’s start against the host Washington Nationals because of the ailment.

“Neck discomfort, started a few days ago,” Espada said. “He tried to work through it but just couldn’t happen. This kind of just came out of nowhere. So, we are going to see what happens here.”

Right-hander Hunter Brown will start in Javier’s place Sunday in the rubber match of the three-game series.

Javier, 27, has a 2-0 record with a 1.54 ERA while working at least five innings in all four starts this season. He has allowed no more than two earned runs in each start.

Brown, 25, is 0-3 with a 10.54 ERA in four starts this season. He won his lone career start against Washington on June 13, 2023, after scattering four hits over seven scoreless innings.

Espada said J.P. France and Justin Verlander will start in Chicago for the next series against the Cubs, but the order was not announced. Arrighetti could also get one of those spots, as could veteran left-hander Framber Valdez (left elbow inflammation), who has been throwing during the road trip.

“He just played catch right now,” Espada said of Valdez on Sunday. “We will see how he feels. Once we see how he feels we will start talking about the possibilities if he can pitch in Chicago or not.”

The Associated Press and Field Level Media contributed to this report.

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