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Soriano earns first save of 2014 season, though it wasn’t easy

Apr 7, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

Nationals closer Rafael Soriano earned his first save of the 2014 season on Sunday after closing out the team’s 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves. Though he sealed the win, however, it took him 22 pitches to record three outs and featured two basehits by the Braves.

Soriano even capped it off with a dramatic final at-bat ending in a strikeout of Jason Heyward. Soriano got Heyward out swinging on a slider in a full count to escape the jam.

It was a save for Soriano and a win for the Nats, but it didn’t come easy. Manager Matt Williams said he was confident in Soriano, even when the Braves were threatening.

Here is what the skipper said when asked if he was nervous during the ninth:

Never. He’s been around the block a couple of times, so he knows what he’s doing out there. If he didn’t get Heyward then he was okay going after B.J. [Upton], too. He doesn’t panic, his heart rate never gets up. He would want it clean, for sure, but he knows what he’s doing.”

Soriano began the inning with a strikeout of Dan Uggla and a pop-up by Gerald Laird. It was two outs on seven pitches, and Soriano looked in control.

Then Andrelton Simmons reached first on an infield grounder to Ian Desmond with two outs. And then, after a full count, Ryan Doumit singled on a groundball to Danny Espinosa at second.

Desmond said the Nats did not panic, even after two hits with two outs.

“I think the day we signed him, you look at the body of work and understand that his skill set and his mind are perfect for each other. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Soriano will likely get plenty of save opportunities this season. In 2013 he saved 43 games in 49 opportunities, the six blown chances a career-high.

The Nationals brought Soriano in to fix their closer problems from the year before. After Drew Storen and the Nats’ bullpen collapsed in the 2012 playoffs, they opted for more experience in Soriano.

Last season Soriano and the Nationals didn’t reach the playoffs, or even seriously challenge the Braves for the NL East division. There were few, truly high leverage situations late last season to test Soriano in. If the Nationals’ are in a pennant race this year, they will need Soriano to be reliable in closing the door.

“He believes in what he does,” Desmond said. “That’s how he became successful. He knows what he’s doing out there and we believe in him. I know it’s not always easy for the fans, but he’s good out there, he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s got a plan the whole time. It’s always exciting.”

  1. realdealnats - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    Knowing what you’re doing, getting it done, working from a body of experience, and getting older and slowly losing it a bit are all part of the same hologram. The wiggle room between his success and failure with each batter seems virtually non-existent. Know that’s what he’s thrived on up til now. Not hating. Just feel that clock ticking on the whole scene. Hope I’m wrong.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    Soriano isn’t a high K pitcher even though he K’d 40% of the batters he faced yesterday, he is a contact closer relying on poor contact.

    BABIP got him at a .667 yesterday and that’s unlucky, and over time we will get a large enough sample size to determine what Soriano 2014 is. Yesterday was just happy to untuck for luck.

  3. senators5 - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    Competence + Confidence=Closer Soriano not so much; big Contract, Certainly.

  4. David Proctor - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    Soriano had a plan the whole time. There was an article somewhere (maybe the Post) that had Sandy Leon talking about their plan of attack against Heyward. He kept throwing him cutters up because that’s the hole in Heyward’s swing (and Heyward homered off Soriano last year on a pitch DOWN). He got ahead 1-2 with a swinging strike. Then he tried to throw a four seamer to blow Heyward away, didn’t work. They threw a couple more cutters, but Heyward was beginning to time it better. So Soriano decided to go to the slider. He went to it on 2-2 and missed outside. At 3-2, Leon went out to the mound and Soriano insisted on sticking with the slider because he knew Heyward was expecting a cutter. Threw a slider and got him to swing through it. If Soriano missed, taking your chances against BJ Upton isn’t the worst plan in the world either (which is what Matty seemed to imply)

    I also think calling Soriano “not a high K pitcher” is not necessarily accurate. He wasn’t last year obviously, but in 2012 he struckout over a batter per inning and his career mark is close to that. His velocity has not dropped much from 2012 to 2013, so I think he could get back to it. It’s all dependent on being able to locate the slider and execute a plan like he did to Heyward consistently.

    Soriano is not Craig Kimbrel, but he’s better than the fanbase gives him credit for.

    • Doc - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:50 PM

      Amen, DP.

      Put together your analysis with Captain Desi’s and the story line is complete.

      Soriano worked on a new grip for his slider, with the help of a former baseball playing inlaw. Apparently, the slider was not something that he trusted a lot last year.

      He maintains that he lost some weight over the winter, and has added some speed to his fastball.

      I think that, like,Clip, he has a really good idea how he wants to go after a hitter.

      The 2 infield hits were exactly that, infield hits.

      Now if we could just help Desi give up the chew?!?!

    • Eric - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:50 PM

      Love this overview, thanks for posting!

    • zmunchkin - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:38 PM

      Excellent analysis DP!

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:50 PM

      +1. Good stuff.

    • veejh - Apr 7, 2014 at 8:22 PM

      LMAO. those cutters weren’t cutting one bit. That was one terrible outing.

    • veejh - Apr 7, 2014 at 8:30 PM

      Excellent job candy coating a terrible outing.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 7, 2014 at 11:31 PM

        Obvious troll is obvious

      • veejh - Apr 7, 2014 at 11:44 PM

        I’m a Nats fan. Failing to see the obvious, I see.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        shrugs

        It wasn’t a terrible outing. I’m no Soriano fan, but he gave up two infield grounders and got two strikeouts, the last one against a good hitter but for whom Soriano clearly had a plan of attack. You can bleat that the pitches were terrible and should have been pasted, but he was throwing to the hitter’s weakness.

        While not a Soriano fan, I don’t get the intense hatred that he engenders. If he does well he apparently doesn’t do it well enough, and even then it’s only because he’s blind lucky. 9th inning adventures have been routine with this franchise back to Day One, from the Chief through Capps and Clip to Soriano. Comparing Soriano to Kimbrel is kinda silly. Not only is Kimbrel the best in the league right now, but what he had done the past 2-3 years is borderline unprecedented. If that is the only standard you will accept in a closer/relief pitcher, well, in the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts: “get used to disappointment.”

  5. realdealnats - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    DP–

    Read that article and was impressed too. When I said “Knowing what you’re doing” up above I should have said “Having a strategy” that’s what I meant there. So yeah, yesterday congrats go his way. My feelings for the guy are not necessarily quantifiable, and I hope I’m wrong, but stand by such intuitions b/c this is NI and I think intuition sometimes gets short shrift. Mine probably deserves it! But intuition in general.

  6. Section 222 - Apr 7, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    Good read DP. Thanks. When you saw the plot of his pitches to Heyward, you knew he was going upstairs intentionally. Fascinating to hear the details.

    Soriano will blow some saves this year and this board will go wild. But it comes with the territory. There were something like 8 blown saves in one day of games last week. It happens, so get ready for it and it won’t hurt as much.

    I’ll be satisfied with 40 saves and 5 blown for the year. That’s one blown save for every 9 saves, and one less than last year. 4 or fewer blown saves would be a great year.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    David, good read. I’ve never dogged Soriano even when he gave up a walkoff HR last year that was a soul crusher. Even the best blow saves. I’m encouraged with what he can hopefully do with new pitches and enducing weak contact and some Ks.

    The good news is the new young arms that can compete for the 2015 closer role like Barrett, Treinen and Detwiler.

  8. secretwasianman - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:06 PM

    Sorry folks. This guy is anything but automatic. He’s not good. Rather see Storen. But people will never forget game 5

    • veejh - Apr 7, 2014 at 8:23 PM

      +1. Someone gets it. No koo-aid here.

  9. Candide - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    Bottom of the 9th, we were all standing for a lot longer time than we were sitting. After a while I began suspecting Soriano was stretching it out deliberately just to annoy me.

    My memory grows old and faulty, but didn’t Chad Cordero give out heart attacks like that all the time? And we loved him.

    • natsfan1a - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:48 PM

      My memory is similarly creaky but I seem to recall the same phenomenon with the chief.

    • therealjohnc - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:53 PM

      Heh. The Chief was famous for cardiac saves. If he came in with a two run lead, you just knew that one ball was leaving the yard. But usually it was a solo HR, he’d let a couple of baserunners on for sport, and then finish the game with the save. Made you crazy, but that comes with the territory.

      • nats128 - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:20 PM

        Fond memories for the Chief! That flat brimmed pudgey face and his smile would light up the stadium!

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    Soriano’s M.O. seems to be, “Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.” As one gets older the odds start to favor the bear. Until that happens, you don’t know where the tipping point is. I just hope we get thru this season.

  11. davecydell - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:24 PM

    Moving on to the fifth starter issue: anyway Fister can go to the bullpen till TJ or Roark prove a need for him?

    • nats128 - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:50 PM

      Thats not happening. Someone will go back to AAA as the emergency starter.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:54 PM

        That’s a problem that you love to have, but usually the situation works itself out before that, one way or another. Either someone else gets nicked, or one of the kids falters, etc. Cross that bridge when we get to it.

  12. Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    “He believes in what he does,” Desmond said. “That’s how he became successful. He knows what he’s doing out there and we believe in him. I know it’s not always easy for the fans, but he’s good out there, he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s got a plan the whole time. It’s always exciting.”

    Not that anybody cares, or should, but for the record, I’m with Cap-2-B here.

    It’s not his job to keep you relaxed and confident; it’s his job to get that save, in that game, period. It’s not his job to save games that are not being played for another 4 months; projections for fans are fun and interesting, but irrelevant to criticism, because by definition, they have not happened, they are imaginary. It’s not to get saves forever and ever amen; nobody, not even Kimbrel, will do that. It’s not necessary for him to be perfect.

  13. paul brandt - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    Agree with SWM although I doubt he was raking leaves today…Soriano is an adventure. Just look at Desi’s final quote above: “It’s always exciting.” Well it’s rarely exciting with Kimbrel.

    I know Soriano is not Kimbrel and never will be but Soriano is being paid entirely too much $ not to expect more. Granted it’s early but 22 pitches and two hits in a 1 run game in the 9th is nothing to write home about. He was up in the zone to everyone – whether by design or not it’s dangerous.

    And enough with the un-tuck…do that when you get 20 saves in a row not after 22 pitches, 2 hits and 2 men on with Heyward up in the 9th in one inning of work.

    • David Proctor - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:41 PM

      But the hits were infield hits. You can’t help that. It’s not like guys were hitting liners all over the place.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:57 PM

        Dave, people get so hung up on the contract that if he whiffed three straight guys on full counts some fans would say “for what he’s getting paid, he shouldn’t need that many pitches.” They also ignore the amount of money that the people he is pitching to make – aren’t those guys paid to hit?

        Two K’s, two infield hits, no runs scored. If Desi makes that play on the Doumit’s ground ball, we’d be a lot less worked up. What was with Espi yesterday? He played lousy in the field.

      • therealjohnc - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:58 PM

        Argh – if Espi makes that play on Doumit’s ground ball. Stupid lack of edit function.

      • Eric - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:08 PM

        IMO, Espi made a pretty nice play that prevented a men-on-the-corners situation. Had he not done that, Heyward would’ve needed nothing more than a sac fly to drastically change the trajectory of the end game.

        Obviously that has no bearing on the earlier miscues, though.

  14. Doc - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    I think we add Aaron Barrett to our home-grown list of Closers-In-The-Making.

    How about the Development guys on the Nats. They brought 5 pitchers to the Bigs over the past 2 years,including the 2 that we traded away!!!

    • veejh - Apr 7, 2014 at 8:25 PM

      +1. After Soriano blows a bunch of saves, I say we try him.

    • npb99 - Apr 7, 2014 at 9:30 PM

      Agree on AB as a candidate. And he’ll be inexpensive, which will help the payroll.

  15. Eugene in Oregon - Apr 7, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    The very best closers are those whose teams give them a two- or three-run lead to start the 9th inning.

  16. Candide - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    Here is what the skipper said when asked if he was nervous during the ninth:

    “Never…

    Yeah, now you’re just lying…

  17. nats128 - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    If you turned off the Cardinals/Reds game. Turn it back on. 9th inning meltdown

    • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:23 PM

      Okay, I owe you a virtual beer.

      • nats128 - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:26 PM

        Can you believe the 2nd strike Rosenthal got on Pena and the 3-0 to Ludwick. Ump changed that whole AB for Pena and he K’d.

  18. Eugene in Oregon - Apr 7, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    Cardinals trying to give away a game they seemed to have had locked up.

  19. Joe Seamhead - Apr 7, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    I like exciting baseball. I like my team to win.Soriano makes baseball especially exciting and the Nats have won an overwhelming high percentage of the games that he has pitched in. I’m glad we have him.So far.But the winds of change blow often for MLB closers.
    Go ahead, flame me.

    • veejh - Apr 7, 2014 at 9:51 PM

      No way we sign Soriano’s option for 2015. He’s not even worth what we paid him on a knee jerk reaction made by Rizzo because of the Storen meltdown. That’s a good chunk of change we need to sign Dez, most importantly. I think LaRoche will be gone, so that free’s up another huge chunk of $. JZimm’s asking price will be waaaaay too high for Rizzo to sign him long term, unfortunately, but I think that’s ok. We have lots of young talent in the pipe, and everything should be just fine, as long as we can sign Dez.

  20. veejh - Apr 7, 2014 at 11:48 PM

    Maybe those 4 cortisone shots Zim got in 2012 are coming back to haunt him. A band-aid of sorts that initially help, but in the long term may cause more damage. Anyone have any research regarding this subject?

    • Eric - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:01 AM

      I can definitely see cortisone alleviating the effects of a repetitive stress injury (e.g., related to throwing), only to enable further repetition and thus further damage.

      The article Ghost posted addresses some of the more direct problems it may cause.

  21. Section 222 - Apr 8, 2014 at 12:38 AM

    I realize that Soriano is not the greatest closer that ever lived. He may very well also not be worth the money we are paying him. But it’s just amazing to me that some people dislike him so much that they will complain about an outing in which he successfully got the save and gave up only two infield hits and nary a hard hit ball. And those same people are willing to entrust the closer keys to a guy who has thrown all of two and 2/3 innings in MLB or a guy who last year was so erratic he had to be sent to the minors to get his head straightened out and came back with a whole new pitching motion. Come on, get real. Do you really think that either Barrett or Storen can be relied on night in and night out to get those last three outs? Be honest. Or do you just dislike Soriano so much that you’re willing to risk even more high wire acts in the 9th?

    If anyone should replace Soriano it’s Clip, who has the track record as a closer and the demeanor and reliability in high pressure situations that the job requires. But I’d rather see him right where he is — facing the toughest hitters in the highest leverage innings. And besides, his innings can be adventurous too. No reliever short of Craig Kimbrel or Koji Uehara (or maybe Jordan Zimmerman in the playoffs) is going to let you relax and enjoy the 9th inning of a close ball game.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:11 AM

      222, I’m with you on this and the last sentence speaks the reality that there are probably 28 fanbases each night hoping their closer saves a win. Mariano is retired and welcome to reality.

      My first comment above was in support of Sunday’s outing. He got bit by bad luck and still got a save in a 1 run game.

      • Section 222 - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:51 AM

        I thought it was pretty telling how many closers blew saves in the first week of the season. There was a single night where something like seven or eight did. I’m sure their fans are as nervous as ours in the 9th. It’s just something you have to live with.

        I’d like to see his fastball hit 91 with more consistency though. The difference between 89 and 91 can be significant, no?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:56 AM

        222, he can throw 91 but I don’t want it if it means he’s giving up movement. We have to face it that he isn’t going to have a blazing fastball. We need his “A” slider this season.

      • Section 222 - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:16 AM

        91 with movement would be just fine.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:27 AM

        Yes it would! It’s the Haren principle where you don’t force velo as the movement flattens out. The starter for Atlanta on Sunday named Wood is a soft tosser who has a velocity drop by the 59th pitch to about 89mph. Location, movement, deception.

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