Nationals closer Rafael Soriano earned his first save of the 2014 season on Sunday after closing out the team’s 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves. Though he sealed the win, however, it took him 22 pitches to record three outs and featured two basehits by the Braves.
Soriano even capped it off with a dramatic final at-bat ending in a strikeout of Jason Heyward. Soriano got Heyward out swinging on a slider in a full count to escape the jam.
It was a save for Soriano and a win for the Nats, but it didn’t come easy. Manager Matt Williams said he was confident in Soriano, even when the Braves were threatening.
Here is what the skipper said when asked if he was nervous during the ninth:
“Never. He's been around the block a couple of times, so he knows what he's doing out there. If he didn't get Heyward then he was okay going after B.J. [Upton], too. He doesn't panic, his heart rate never gets up. He would want it clean, for sure, but he knows what he's doing.”
Soriano began the inning with a strikeout of Dan Uggla and a pop-up by Gerald Laird. It was two outs on seven pitches, and Soriano looked in control.
Then Andrelton Simmons reached first on an infield grounder to Ian Desmond with two outs. And then, after a full count, Ryan Doumit singled on a groundball to Danny Espinosa at second.
Desmond said the Nats did not panic, even after two hits with two outs.
“I think the day we signed him, you look at the body of work and understand that his skill set and his mind are perfect for each other. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Soriano will likely get plenty of save opportunities this season. In 2013 he saved 43 games in 49 opportunities, the six blown chances a career-high.
The Nationals brought Soriano in to fix their closer problems from the year before. After Drew Storen and the Nats’ bullpen collapsed in the 2012 playoffs, they opted for more experience in Soriano.
Last season Soriano and the Nationals didn’t reach the playoffs, or even seriously challenge the Braves for the NL East division. There were few, truly high leverage situations late last season to test Soriano in. If the Nationals' are in a pennant race this year, they will need Soriano to be reliable in closing the door.
“He believes in what he does,” Desmond said. “That’s how he became successful. He knows what he’s doing out there and we believe in him. I know it’s not always easy for the fans, but he’s good out there, he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s got a plan the whole time. It’s always exciting.”