It's hard to read Rafael Soriano on the mound. He's relatively emotionless. Once he earns a save, he'll untuck his jersey with two emphatic tugs on either side. Until then, however, he betrays little.
He may have been upset with home plate umpire Mike Winters' zone. Soriano may have been unhappy that he was in the game in what became a non-save situation after a three-run bottom of the eighth gave the Washington Nationals a 7-3 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in their July 25th matchup in the nation's capital.
Since Davey Johnson was ejected earlier in the game, it was up to Nats' bench coach Randy Knorr to decide which it was after Soriano walked the first two batters he faced, had one run score on an RBI double by Jordy Mercer then another come in on an RBI single by Russell Martin that made it 7-5. The Nats' closer was up to 25 pitches. Knorr walked to the mound.
"I was watching him pitch," the Nats' 44-year-old, second-year bench coach explained after the game, "and in the past I've seen him pitch and when it's not a save opportunity he doesn't have the same effect when he's pitching and he wasn't throwing the ball over the plate and a couple of lefties were coming up and I like the way [Ian] Krol throws the ball and I figured if you don't want to be in that mode to shut the game down, I'll bring somebody else in."
Krol, a 22-year-old rookie left-hander, had a 2.20 ERA through 16 1/3 IP to that point in which opposing hitters had a .203/.226/.322 line. Krol walked Pedro Alvarez, the left-handed hitter he was brought on to face, in a six-pitch at bat, then struck Jose Tabata out for the second out of the frame before surrendering a two-run single by Pirates' infielder Josh Harrison that tied the game up at 7-7. Krol got the last out of the inning and Bryce Harper hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the frame.
Afterwards, Krol told reporters, including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, that he'd felt the pressure.
"'Haven’t felt nerves like that since my debut,'" Krol admitted. "'So it was kind of crazy to be out there in that situation. Something that I’m not comfortable with. Something that I don’t normally do.'"
Davey Johnson was asked about Knorr's decision the next day.
"It's sometimes what you do," he said. "Go with what you're seeing."
The Nationals' 70-year-old manager told reporters he thought he saw a frustrated pitcher.
"I think Soriano was more frustrated with the strike zone that sometimes was a little inconsistent," he explained, "but I'm sure he's been in situations like that before. It shouldn't have had that much effect on him."
Johnson declined to say what decision he would have made. "I don't know," Johnson said. "I don't know."
"I want to see [the ball] come out of his hand," he said, "and the way the hitter's reacting." Johnson said that he trusted his staff to make the decisions without his input. "They're good baseball men. I trust whatever they do."
Will the Nationals trust Knorr to make those decisions on an everyday basis? The outgoing skipper was asked that day if he thought his bench coach could take his place?
"Yeah," he said. "My requirements, and I got in trouble for voicing them with a couple of my other managers around the league, was somebody asked me, 'What is the criteria for a big league manager?' I said, 'The ideal is to manage in your system, so you know the talent in your system.' And that's the criteria. Having managed. And some guys that were coaches and never managed took offense at what I said. But I was talking about the ideal guy."
Knorr has managed at every level of the Nationals' system, starting at Low-A and working his way up to Triple-A and eventually the major league bench. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported today that Knorr interviewed for the Nats' managerial opening late last week.
More from Federal Baseball:
- WaPost Report: Randy Knorr Interviewed For Nationals' Managerial Opening
- WaPost Report: Matt Williams Interviewed For Nationals' Managerial Job
- Nationals' Prospect Steven Souza Drives In Two Runs In 3-1 AFL Win
- Brad Ausmus Reportedly On Nationals' List Of Managerial Candidates
- Davey Johnson's Tough Love For Nationals' Starter Stephen Strasburg