In his first campaign in the nation's capital in 2013, Rafael Soriano saved 43 games, posting 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.
After giving up a run in the ninth on Friday night in the Washington Nationals' 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Nats Park, the now-34-year-old closer has a 2.05 ERA and a 2.74 FIP with 14 walks (2.61 BB/9) allowed and 45 Ks (8.38 K/9) collected in 48 ⅓ innings pitched, over which he's saved 29.
Soriano gave up a run for the second time in three nights, surrendering a leadoff single to center by Starling Marte, a two-out RBI single by Pedro Alvarez and a two-out single to right by Chris Stewart that put the tying run 90 feet from home, but he popped Bucs' leadoff man Josh Harrison up behind home to end the the Nationals' fourth straight win.
"He's got the job done for us all year," manager Matt Williams said when asked about yet another adventurous ninth.
"That's three in a row for him, so it's a pretty heavy workload, but he got through it tonight and we'll see how he feels tomorrow, but we had to try to win that one tonight."
When Soriano gave up a run on a home run to left field by Mets' catcher Travis d'Arnaud on Wednesday night in Citi Field in New York and surrendered two singles and a stolen base which put two runners in scoring position with one out in what was then a one-run game, Williams chalked it up to a bit of rust on the pitcher's part since Soriano hadn't pitched since the previous Saturday night in Atlanta.
"Just the ball up in the zone," he said in explaining Soriano's struggles. "Just up, middle. The homer was, he missed location and both base hits up the middle he missed location, so just a little off. Regular work is key for guys, but sometimes in the closer role you don't get it, so, we were able to hold on."
Tanner Roark gave the Nationals 5 ⅔ innings against the Pirates, Jerry Blevins finished the sixth inning and Drew Storen, with a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh and Tyler Clippard, with a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth, made a 5-3 lead hold up.
"They've pitched really well all season," WIlliams said of his seventh and eighth inning options, "and it's comforting to know that if you get through the sixth then you have those guys sitting down there ready to go and they've faced righties, lefties, it doesn't matter and they've been those guys that we got to to get to [Soriano] all year and they've pitched really well."
Though Soriano was up in the zone some on Friday night in Nationals Park, not all of the pitches up in the zone were mistakes according to Williams.
"He does pitch up in the strike zone some, and that's for effect as well," he explained.
"So it is part of the season, it's part of things that pitchers go through or hitters go through. It doesn't mean that the next time out he's not going to go 1-2-3. We've got confidence in him that he can do that and he's certainly got confidence in himself that he can do that and so the next time it presents itself he'll have the ball again."
Soriano's faced just three batters in 25 of his 49 appearances this year, with clean 1-2-3 frames in 20 of those 25 outings including Thursday night's.
He's thrown 56 pitches in the last three days, so he might not be available for a fourth straight save opportunity, as Williams said, depending on how he feels, but the first-year skipper knows Soriano will be ready the next time he calls on the closer.
"He's done this a long time," Williams told reporters Friday night, "and been pretty successful at it, so we've got confidence in him, so like I said, next time it presents itself, he'll have the ball again."