After a dominant afternoon by Stephen Strasburg, a two-homer day by Bryce Harper, and a scoreless eighth inning by Tyler Clippard, it was time for prized free agent closer Rafael Soriano to take the mound and do what the Nats paid him all that money for.
Soriano entered Monday’s game with a two-run lead in the ninth and the Marlins’ top of the order on deck. And despite a rough spring that may have raised questions, he emerged with the save after just 11 pitches, a closeout as textbook as they come.
Soriano allowed six earned runs in 6 2/3 innings during spring training, but as far as the Nats are concerned, that’s in the past.
“Obviously, spring training’s overrated,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He certainly turned it up a notch. Made nothing but quality pitches. He did outstanding.”
“I think we all realized that in spring training, he’s a veteran guy,” Tyler Clippard said. “He knows what he needed to do to get ready and he was ready. It was fun to watch.”
Johnson said pitching coach Steve McCatty lamented before the season opener that he wished Soriano had a few more spring outings. But Soriano worked quick to quell those concerns with a pop fly for the first out and two strikeouts to close the game.
The two strikeouts came against former N.L. Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Afterwards Soriano’s catcher, Wilson Ramos, was amazed at how easily he finished the inning.
“His pitches were perfect. Especially [against] Stanton. That guy can hit for a lot of power, but he froze him with his pitches. That was a great, great inning for him,” he said.
“The ball for him moves a lot. All the pitches move a lot. The players, they see something, they're going to make a swing. The ball moves and freezes them. That was pretty good stuff. I'm excited to catch him.”
Monday could have been just the first of many as Soriano saved 42 games for the Yankees last year and could get even more opportunities with Washington this season. It also served as his teammates’ first introduction to Soriano’s signature celebration, un-tucking his jersey immediately after the third out is sealed.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman says he and the others in the field will need to catch on, that he wasn’t aware the whole team is supposed to follow suit.
“I was not. But he can un-tuck his shirt 60-some times if he wants."