Visa issues delayed the arrival of the Washington Nationals' new closer. Rafael Soriano is the only pitcher who hasn't yet reported to the Washington Nationals' Spring Training facilities, though his absence was explained quickly once it was noted and reported Thursday morning as Nats' pitchers and catchers held their first full workout. The 33-year-old, Dominican Republic-born, 11-year veteran signed a 2-year/$28M dollar deal this winter (with a good deal of the money deferred) after opting out of the third year of the 3-year/$35 million dollar contract he signed with the New York Yankees in January of 2011. The former Mariners, Braves, Rays and Yankees' reliever is coming off a 42 save, +1.2 fWAR 2012 campaign in NY in which he had a 2.26 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, 24 walks (3.19 BB/9) and 69 Ks (9.18 K/9) in 69 games and 67.2 IP. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters after the team's first workout of the year that he wasn't concerned about someone with Soriano's experience getting a bit of a late start to Spring Training.
"I'm not really worried about him because he's a veteran pitcher," the Nationals' 70-year-old skipper said, "He knows what he needs to do to get ready. I've been used to dealing with that kind of stuff from visa problems. But they've got great weather down there [in the Dominican Republic], I'm sure he's not just sitting and watching tv. I'm sure he'll come in to camp in good shape. That's the least of my worries."
When Soriano does arrive he'll join a right-hand heavy bullpen in which he'll be the main ninth-inning option, but just one of three potential closers who can work the late innings for the defending NL East champs. Drew Storen's saved 52 games three years into his pro career. When Storen was injured last year, Tyler Clippard stepped in and saved 32 games. The Nats' skipper seemed about as concerned with how he'll manage the available arms as he was with Soriano's delayed arrival.
"When you're fighting for a pennant, a lot of times you can run off a lot wins in a row," Johnson explained, "I've had closers... I always have had a backup closer. In here I actually have, in reality, I have three guys that have closed aside from [Soriano]. So I have plenty of backup in case the workload got too tough for [Soriano]. So I'm not really concerned about that, it will shake itself out. I've had conversations with [Henry] Rodriguez, Storen and Clipp and they are comfortable in any role I use them in. But they've all had the experience, and experience is the thing. You have to be in that situation to see how you handle it and all three of those guys handled that situation very well, so that's not going to be an issue."
As Nats' GM Mike Rizzo explained in the press conference introducing Soriano to the nation's capital earlier this winter, the decision to sign the veteran stopper was not a statement on their confidence in Clippard or Storen and it wasn't made because of the way the 2012 season ended, with a blown save in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS against St. Louis. "By no means [was] the signing of Rafael Soriano based on one inning and one game at the end of the season," Rizzo said. They all have closer's stuff, the GM explained, "One of them is going to close out the seventh, one will close out the eighth and one will finish the game in the ninth and we feel pretty good about that."
Davey Johnson was actually on a safari in Africa when the Soriano signing was announced in January. As he explained yesterday, he was a little surprised by the news when he heard it. "It kind of caught me a little bit by surprise," Johnson said. "Any time you can add a quality player, I mean, it makes me smart. But I need 25 guys to win a pennant. It's not Soriano. It's all of them. And they are all invaluable, so where I put them in there? Every inning is important. I know in Storen's mind he's going to be doing the best job he can and will want to close the game. Clippard, that was his goal, to get the opportunity to close and he did a great job. So, I mean, I understand where they're coming from and in my conversations with them, I said, you know it's all on performance. You take care on no.1 and let me worry about everybody."
• Bill Bray Update: Veteran lefty Bill Bray was limited to just 8.2 IP by lumbar and groin issues in 2012 in Cincinnati and Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said the groin injury in particular was still affecting the reliever. "He's coming back after a severe groin injury," Johnson explained on Thursday. "And talking to [Pitching Coach Steve McCatty], it looks like his delivery is a little bit changed. He's made adjustments in his delivery to overcome the groin. And I think it's going to be a little slow process for him in the Spring to get back to where he's comfortable with his extension and release points. But I thought he had pretty good arm strength today."
When he was healthy in 2011, Bray, the one-time National and Montreal Expos' 1st Round pick, had a 2.98 ERA, a 3.19 FIP, 17 walks (3.17 BB/9) and 44 Ks (8.19 K/9) in 79 games and 48.1 IP over which he held left-handers to a .176/.255/.292 line. As for whether or not there's a role for the reliever in the 2013 pen, Johnson said it was yet to be determined. "All those things are going to shake themselves out in the Spring," the manager said, "Obviously, I like using several left-handers out of the pen, but my right-handers have been very efficient against getting left-handers out too. Every one of them has been pretty good out there."