Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams discussed his plan for getting 34-year-old closer Rafael Soriano back on track during an interview on the MLB Network Radio show "First Pitch" last week.
"I want to get [Soriano] back in line," Williams said. "The time before his last outing he threw the ball really well, last time wasn't so good. But we need him. We're going to need him and we're going to need him to pitch well for us. So he'll pitch during the last part of the season and in some pressure situations. That's where he's been and we're going to need him in those."
The outings the first-year skipper was referring to were a scoreless inning of work on the road in New York and a less-than-impressive appearance in Atlanta in which he gave up a leadoff double by Braves' shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a one-out RBI double by Justin Upton and a two-out walk to Chris Johnson before Williams turned to current closer Drew Storen, who allowed one of the runners he inherited to score before recording the final out and his sixth save in what ended up a 4-2 win.
"Just the ball to Simmons is up," Williams said when asked about what the issues were that night. "I don't know if it's a bad pitch to Justin. It's down in the zone and then of course I had to go get him when he walked the last guy.
"He was a little bit out of the strike zone more tonight than he was the last time out, but [he'll] just continue to work on mechanics and getting that ball down."
Williams also discussed the decision to pull Soriano after the walk brought the tying run to the plate.
"Until he gets in trouble, " he explained, "giving up the one run is not the issue, it's the walk. You're asking for it with one swing of the bat there. So, we decided to go get Drew."
On Sunday afternoon in Marlins Park, Williams went back to Soriano with a 2-0 lead after eight and half innings in the series finale with Miami. Storen earned saves in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, so the recently-deposed closer was called upon.
Before he was done with his 32nd save of the season, however, and his first save since September 1st, Soriano once again made it interesting. Reed Johnson hit a fly ball to deep left field where Bryce Harper came close but failed to make a catch. Consecutive fly ball outs moved Johnson to third and then home, and Casey McGehee stepped in as the tying run, but lined out sharply to left field for the final out of the game.
Williams said Soriano was "okay" when asked to assess the outing.
"Down in the strike zone," Williams said. "Certainly the ball to left, [Bryce Harper] could have caught that ball. Big ballpark and he hit it a long way, but it's catchable. And then a couple of flyouts. The last one, McGehee squared up pretty good, but Harper made a nice play on it."
Soriano's outing didn't exactly inspire confidence. Williams will be faced with a tough decision as the postseason approaches. If he's not confident he can use Soriano in pressure situations, does he even put Soriano in the bullpen for the NLDS?
Though Soriano impressed in the first half, posting a 0.97 ERA, a 2.43 FIP and a .153/.222/.226 line against in 37 IP, his second-half numbers after Sunday's outing are less impressive to put it politely.
In 24 IP, Soriano has put up a 6.75 ERA, a 4.09 FIP and a .311/.372/.525 line against. While his fastball bumped up to 93-94 mph at some points earlier this season, the six fastballs he threw in Miami sat between 88-91.
If you were in charge of putting together the postseason bullpen, does Soriano get a spot?
Do you think Matt Williams will make the tough decision to leave him out?
Assuming the Nationals go with an eight-man pen: [Starter to pen?], Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Matt Thornton, Jerry Blevins, Aaron Barrett, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen.
Does Soriano get a spot over any of those relievers? The "A-pen" right now seems to be Barrett (and any of the lefties) in the seventh, Clippard in the eighth and Storen in the ninth.
Is this it for Soriano?