Before Wednesday's series finale with the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams talked about the importance of getting 34-year-old veteran reliever Rafael Soriano back on the mound after he was given a few days off following his fifth blown save of the second-half this past Friday night.
With Soriano working on his mechanics behind the scenes and in a bullpen session, Nats' right-hander Drew Storen saved three straight games in the series finale with Philadelphia on Sunday and the first two games of the three-game set with the Braves.
Williams was asked before yesterday's game if it was important to get Soriano back on the mound in competitive action?
"Very important," he said. "We gave him a couple of days. He worked on some things, had a day after that work and now it's important for him to get in a game, of course. We want to get him in there and let him feel confident about the things that he worked on in the bullpen. There's nothing like getting in a game situation. Even if you're throwing a bullpen, you don't get the adrenaline that you get during the game. So it's important for him to get in there.
"So we'll see how the game unfolds and what potential situation we can get him in there today. But we'll see. It's imporant over the next couple that he gets in a ballgame."
As Williams stated previously, he was looking for the right situation to work Soriano back in after the rough outing against the Phillies in which he gave up three hits, two of them home runs and three runs total, turning a 7-4 lead into a tie game the Nationals eventually lost in extra innings.
The blowup, which saw Soriano surrender the second home run of Ben Revere's career, left the right-hander with a 6.98 ERA and a .325/.387/.530 line in 19 ⅓ IP in the second-half of his second season in D.C.
On Wednesday, Soriano returned to the mound in the nation's capital with the Nats down 6-1 in the eighth inning and threw a scoreless frame in spite of the fact that he gave up a one-out double by Ryan Doumit and a single to right by Jason Heyward before stranding both runners in a fairly typical outing for the reliever.
Williams said after the game he liked what he saw.
"Better down angle," he said. "Threw some really good sliders today. Had depth to them. So, the mechanical stuff he's working on was much better today. Doumit's ball got in on him a little bit, good placement down the line there and then he battled through the inning. I thought he was better down in the strike zone today."
Williams reiterated that he thought it was important for Soriano to get back to work.
"We wanted to get him in the game today," Williams told reporters. "We wanted to get him a clean inning to get him to work on the things he's working on, so today's situation was 6-1, but a clean inning is important for him there, so I thought he was much better down in the zone today."
Now that he's back on the mound, though, what role will Soriano fill going forward?
"We'll see," Williams said. "We'll see how the games play out. Who's available, who isn't and we'll just continue to do what we've been doing, see how it goes."
Soriano explained in a post game interview that the mechanical fixes he was working on were his focus when he took the mound.
"That's what I did today, I tried to stay a little bit back and have good balance and my power is in the back, and that's what I did today."
A reporter asked Soriano what it was like watching Storen save three straight games in his absence?
"I feel fine," Soriano said. "I feel fine because I talked to Matt and he told me he's going to give me a couple of days and he said Drew* is going to be the closer and I'm happy because we win and [Storen] does his job and I'm happy for that."
As for whether he would be okay with another role other than the closer's role?
"I don't know," Soriano said. "I'll figure it out, because I haven't talked to anybody yet."
[ed. note - " * = The original story misquoted an important word from Soriano, with the sentence in question reading '... you're going to be the closer,' instead of 'Drew' is. The Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore quoted Soriano saying: 'I feel fine,' Soriano said. 'I talked to Matt. He told me he’s going to give me a couple days, and he said Drew is going to be the closer.' You can listen to the audio of Soriano's response here."]