Through 34 appearances in his second season as the Washington Nationals' closer, right-hander Rafael Soriano is (1-0) with 20 saves in 22 opportunities, a 1.06 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 11 walks (2.91 BB/9) and 32 Ks (8.47 K/9) in 34 IP over which he's been worth +0.7 fWAR.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams wasn't around to watch Soriano pitch for the Nationals in 2013, when the veteran reliever saved 43 games and posted a 3.11 ERA, a 3.65 FIP, 17 walks (2.30 BB/9) and 51 Ks (6.89 K/9) in 68 games and 66 ⅔ IP over which he was worth +0.5 fWAR in the first year of the 2-year/$28M dollar deal he signed with Washington. So far this season, however, Williams has been impressed with what the 13-year veteran has done at the back end of the Nationals' bullpen.
"From what I've hear, I mean, I wasn't here, he's got a little bit better fastball this year," Williams said.
"Do you think that's accurate?" he asked reporters.
They unanimously responded, "Yes."
"It's a little bit better than it was last year," Williams continued, "so I think he's using it a lot more. The concern he had going into spring was his slider, his cutter, having both of those available and I think he's had both of those two."
All of that is accurate. Soriano's fastball usage is up from 30.4% in 2013 to 37.1% so far this season and he's been hitting 93-94 mph on the radar gun after average 91 mph+ with it last season. His slider, which he used just 15.5% of the time last year, he's thrown 27.8% of the time in 2014, not quite as much as he threw it in 2012 in New York (40.1%), but up over his career average (23.7%). His cutter usage is down to 34.9% so far this season from 54.1% in 2013.
Opposing hitters put up a .258 AVG on Soriano's fastball last season, that's down to .127 so far this year. They hit .284 on his slider when he did throw it, that's down to .200. They put up a .133 AVG on his cutter last year, that's at .167 right now.
"I just think he's got all of his pitches," Williams said. "Again, I wasn't here, but I heard rumblings of last year not being able to find some of his pitches, some of his pitches [were] off, but I haven't seen that. I think he's been really good. I think he's been for the most part ahead of guys and throwing strike one and his fastball has been really good."
When Soriano starts 0-1, opposing hitters have a .169/.183/.220 line.
When he gets up 0-2, hitters have .120/.154/.160 line and 13 of those 25 at bats have ended in strikeouts.
The two-year contract Soriano signed vests automatically if he finishes 120 games between the two seasons.
He finished 58 games last year and has finished 28 so far this season. The 58 GF last year were a career-high, so it doesn't seem likely that he'll reach the 120 GF mark, but the contract also includes a $14M club option for 2014. If he keeps it up, any chance the Nationals bring him back anyway?