Over the course of his 11 MLB seasons, 33-year-old closer Rafael Soriano has saved 133 games, including the Washington Nationals' season-opener in his debut as the Nats' closer after he signed a 2-year/$28 million dollar deal this past winter. Soriano threw just 39.1 IP with the New York Yankees in 2011, the majority of them in the 7th (12.1) and 8th innings (18.1), and he missed time with elbow and shoulder issues. In 2012, with the Yankees' legendary closer Mariano Rivera sidelined, Soriano got the opportunity to close in NY, with 54.0 of his 67.2 IP coming in the ninth inning.
Soriano saved 42 games for the Yankees last year, posted a 2.26 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, walked 24 (3.19 BB/9) and recorded 69 Ks (9.18 K/9). With Rivera slated to return in 2013, however, Soriano opted out of his deal and went on the free agent market looking for a job as a closer. In spite of the fact that the Nationals had two (three if you count Henry Rodriguez) relievers on the roster with closing experience, immediately upon signing Soriano, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo made it clear that the ninth inning was going to be Soriano's. "Raffy's here to pitch the ninth inning," Rizzo told reporters at the press conference introducing the soft-spoken, hard-throwning Soriano to the nation's capital. "He's done it successfully everywhere he's been and we expect him to continue that."
As for Storen and Clippard's roles with the 2013 Nationals? "One of them is going to close out the seventh," Rizzo said, "one will close out the eighth and one will finish the game in the ninth and we feel pretty good about that." In Game 1 of 162 it was Clippard and Soriano in the eighth and ninth after Stephen Strasburg's seven shutout innings against and overmatched Miami Marlins' lineup. After posting an 8.10 ERA in seven games in Grapefruit League action, giving up 10 hits, three walks and six runs in 6.2 IP, Soriano was all business in his Nationals' debut.
The right-hander needed just 11 pitches, eight of them strikes, to retire the side in order in the ninth, getting a fly to right from Juan Pierre and back-to-back backwards Ks from Chris Coghlan and Giancarlo Stanton. Soriano's fastball sat around 91-92 mph, he threw a cutter at 89 and a slider at 82-84 mph. The Marlins went down quickly as they had all afternoon against the Nationals' pitchers.
Soriano's teammates and his manager were impressed. Nats' 3B Ryan Zimmerman told reporters, including the Washington Examiner's Brian McNally that the team's new closer made it look easy:
"'The best thing about [Soriano] ... is most closers just come in and try to overpower you. He's really, really smart," Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "He knows how to get people out. Stanton is not an easy guy to make look foolish like that.'"
"Obviously Spring Training is overrated," Davey Johnson quipped when asked about Soriano's outing after Monday's win, "But he certainly turned it up a notch, made nothing but quality pitches. He was outstanding."
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo was asked about the very-early returns on the Nationals' investment in Soriano, (which he said all winter 'strengthened a strength') in the first "Mike Rizzo Show" on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. this morning, telling hosts Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier he liked what he saw, and it was what was expected. "He has a calmness about him. He's done those things throughout his career. He's done them at some of the highest, most-stressful places in baseball. He's got a calmness about him, he's got good stuff with good command and can throw the ball where he wants to with three and four pitches."
"That makes it a tough at bat for the guys at the end of the game," Rizzo continued, "And he certainly doesn't shy away from the most stressful situations that you have and that's what a closer's job is." The Nats' $28M dollar closer, (whose deal is backloaded and has an Annual Average Value of $11M per), did his job, untucked his jersey as he's wont to do and shook hands with his teammates after closing out Game 1 of 162. Soriano, as the Washington Examiner's Mr. McNally noted, had just one problem with his new team, they didn't join him in untucking their jerseys after the save. Get with it, Nats.