Rafael Soriano signed a 2-year/$28M deal with the Washington Nationals coming off a 2012 season with the New York Yankees in which the 11-year-veteran saved 42 games and posted a 2.26 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, 24 walks (3.19 BB/9) and 69 Ks (9.18 K/9) in 67 2/3 IP over which he gave up six HRs (0.80 HR/9) and finished at +1.2 fWAR.
"[Soriano] comes with impeccable credentials and terrific talent and skill set that will fit in," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said in the right-hander's introductory press conference. "He's a terrific young man that has great character and great make-up and really is the epitome of what has become a Washington Nationals-type of player."
Toward the end of a 2013 campaign which saw the 33-year-old closer earn 43 saves for the Nationals while posting a 3.11 ERA, a 3.65 FIP, 17 walks (2.30 BB/9) and 51 Ks (6.89 K/9) in 66 2/3 IP in which he gave up 7 HRs (0.95 HR/9) and finished at +0.5 fWAR, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was asked by 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies if he thought the reliever was having a good season?
"No," Johnson said, "he hasn't had as good a year as he's certainly capable of. He hasn't pitched to his abilities. I'd say he's down too. He saved a lot of games. He's had miscues in some. The defense has helped him..."
Soriano's 43 saves were the second-highest total of his career, behind only the 45 he saved with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. He also had a career-high six blown saves. Soriano's fastball velocity dropped for the fourth consecutive season from 93.4 mph average in 2010, 92.8 in 2011 and 92.3 in 2012 to 91.4 mph in 2013.
His K% with the fastball dropped from 20.0 K% in 2012 and a career average 24.8 K% to 15.5% in 2013. He also threw the fastball far less, 30.4% of the time down from 59.9% in 2012 and 63.6% over the course of his career, while relying on the cutter more than he ever has before 54.1% after putting it away in 2012 and throwing it 20.1% of the time in 2011. After throwing his fastball and slider in 2012 (59.9% FB - 40.1% SL), he threw the slider far less in 2013 (15.5%), saying he didn't have a feel for it and saw the K% with the pitch drop from 32.4% in 2010, 29.1% in 2011, 29.6% in 2012 to 26.5% in 2013.
Soriano's K/9 in 2013 (6.89 K/9) was down from 9.18 K/9 in 2012. His K% was down from 24.7% in 2012 to 18.4% in his first year in D.C. Opposing hitters' AVG was up to .250 from .162 in 2010, .228 in 2011 and .217 in 2012 and a career .204 BAA. Opponents' BABIP was up from .276 and .274 in 2011-12, respectively to .287 in 2013.
In a Washington Post article by Adam Kilgore late this season, Soriano said a lot of his issues throughout his first year in D.C. were a result of his infrequent appearances as the Nationals hovered around .500 for most of the year:
"I had like three or four times I don’t pitch for like a week," Soriano said. "It’s not easy, you know? Pitching every two or three days, for me, I feel more better like that. When you have five days where you don’t pitch, it’s not easy. But you know, it don’t be nobody’s fault. The team has been struggling."
As the Nats went 34-20 in August and September, Soriano picked up his game as well. After blowing his sixth save of the year on August 17th in Atlanta, Soriano ran off a stretch of 16 games over the last five weeks of the season in which he had a 1.17 ERA, four walks (2.35 BB/9) and 13 Ks (7.63 K/9) in 15 1/3 IP in which he gave up 14 hits but just two earned runs while holding opposing hitters to a .241/.290/.310 line and saving 12 straight to end the season.
Soriano's contract pays him $7M in 2013 ($14M really, but $14M of the $28M total contract is deferred). If the veteran reliever "finishes" 62 games (after "finishing" 58 this year) his option for 2015 vests as a result of a guarantee in his deal that says it vests if he "finishes" 120 games between 2013-14.
Tyler Clippard talked when Drew Storen was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse this season about the message Soriano's signing sent to the members of the bullpen after the way the 2012 campaign ended.
There was a bit of controversy when Soriano questioned Bryce Harper's positioning and decision-making in a game in San Francisco in May. Soriano was removed from a non-save situation by a testy bench coach Randy Knorr at one point this season when Knorr didn't like his body language or results. "I figured if you don't want to be in that mode to shut the game down," Knorr told reporters, "I'll bring somebody else in."
Of course, he also defied his image as a quiet, stand-off-ish presence in the clubhouse by hosting his teammates at his home in Atlanta early in the season. Soriano watched his teammates work and offered advice when he had some to give as he did with Gio Gonzalez at one point. It was an interesting, up and down season for the reliever who will turn 34 in December. Will he bring the slider back in 2014? Can he find his swing-and-miss stuff? How many times with Soriano untuck his jersey in his second season in the nation's capital?
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