Rafael Soriano struggled to close out the series opener with the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving up three hits and one earned run in what ended up a 5-4 win in which he earned his 29th save.
Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after that outing, that a couple rough innings for the 34-year-old closer hadn't changed his opinion on which reliever he would turn to the next time a save opportunity presented itself.
"He's done this a long time and been pretty successful at it," Williams said, "so we've got confidence in him... next time it presents itself, he'll have the ball again."
Saturday night's game was tied in the top of the ninth and the Nationals walked off in the bottom of the inning, so there was no need for Soriano on what would have been his fourth straight night on the mound if he'd pitched.
But after the Nationals rallied to take a 4-2 lead in the seventh on Sunday night, and after a scoreless eighth by Tyler Clippard, Williams turned to his closer again and brought Soriano out to go for his 30th save of the season.
There was trouble from the start, with a hit by pitch on Starling Marte followed by a line drive off Travis Snider's bat that was hit so hard into bounced off Adam LaRoche's glove and sailed into right on what might have been a double play if the first baseman caught it. Instead it was runners on first and third with no outs, and a wild pitch brought Marte in from third to make it 4-3.
With a runner in scoring position at second, Soriano walked Ike Davis to put two on. Gaby Sanchez pounded one right down in the dirt in front of home, allowing Wilson Ramos to cut down the lead runner at third for the first out of the frame, but Gregory Polanco doubled to left in the next at bat to drive in two more runs and make it 5-4 Pirates.
That was it for Soriano.
Williams was asked after the game, which the Nationals eventually won on a walk-off sac fly by Scott Hairston in the eleventh after rallying to tie it at 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, if he'd considered bringing in left-hander Matt Thornton, who was warming, to face Polanco, Pittsburgh's 22-year-old rookie outfielder.
He said no.
"Unless they tie the game," Williams explained, "[Soriano] has got to try to get out of that inning. He's been our closer all year and done a great job for us. Lately it hasn't been what he wants but we've got to give him a chance to get out of that inning."
Asked what was wrong tonight, the first-year skipper said Soriano was just up in the zone again and the command wasn't there.
"Ball is up in the strike zone over the last three or four, and middle of the plate," Wiliams said. "He hasn't been able to command his slider either. The problem is, with a bullpen guy it's difficult for him to work on it in the bullpen because he can be forced into action potentially the next day or that night, but it's just been up in the strike zone."
"I feel great," Soriano said after the game. "But every pitch that I throw it's unbelievable. Never happened before like that."
The pitch Polanco hit off the out-of-town scoreboard in right to drive in two including the go-ahead run?
"I tried to make a good pitch and nothing happened," Soriano explained. "[Matt Williams] made a good decision, take me out and put Matt [Thornton in]."
Soriano admitted that he was struggling with his location.
"I don't think it was too good," he said. "The last three or four games, I [haven't] been too comfortable and it's not too easy for me.
Williams was asked if he would consider lower-leverage situations for Soriano so he could work out his issues?
"Potentially," WIlliams said, before reiterating that he supported the veteran right-hander.
"He's been our closer all year and I don't see that changing as of right now.
"Again, he's been up a lot recently, pitching a lot of games and hopefully the games don't present themselves like that and we can give him some rest and give him a chance to cool down a little bit and get back where he wants to throw the baseball. Just been a little off, that's all."
And if Soriano continues to struggle, there are options available.
"We've got guys that have done that," Williams said, referring to his relievers with experience as closers.
"Drew [Storen], [Tyler Clippard] has done it, Matt Thornton has done it, so that's certainly options that we have depending on how he feels, but that's a pretty heavy workload over the last five, so, we'll see how he is tomorrow."
A reporter noted that it might just be the by-product of a winning streak with the Nationals leading so often and save opportunities plentiful.
"But that's okay," Williams said. "we want to give him the ball in the ninth inning and he's been really good for us all year long so we'll see how his health is, how his arm feels tomorrow."
"It happens sometimes," Soriano said of the blown save. "This year for me at home, I think it's the second time it happened to me. What I have to say? I feel happy that we win, and I feel bad for [Doug] Fister and come back tomorrow."
"I'll try to figure out what happened," Soriano continued. "What I have to do for tomorrow's game, and figure it out."
Williams was also asked about the boos Soriano heard as he left the mound after the blown save.
"Our fans are very supportive of all us," the manager said. "It's disappointing when you have the lead in the ninth and you don't close the game out, but the next time he goes out there and goes 1-2-3 they'll cheer for him too."
Soriano heard the fans too.
"I played two years in New York," he said. "It be more loud than that."
His plan going forward?
"Come back tomorrow and forget everything that happened today."
Ian Desmond didn't like the booing...
Soriano has pitcher his butt off for us all year. I'd take him in the 9th any day of the week. All the booing tonight was ridiculous.— Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) August 18, 2014