UPDATE, 4:50 p.m.: Manager Davey Johnson said Rafael Soriano is scheduled to make his first spring training appearance on March 5 against the Houston Astros. Soriano doesn’t like to face division opponents in the spring.
ORIGINAL POST: Rafael Soriano climbed onto the mound on Wednesday to face hitters for the first time this spring in a Nationals uniform. Sure, it was live batting practice and against his own teammates and he was telling them what pitches he was throwing, but it was a fun and only-in-spring-training test for the players. And for Soriano’s new teammates, it was their first chance to see him up close.
Soriano, whose imposing figure on the mound was somewhat muted by the metal L screen in front of him, muttered mild obscenities to himself in Spanish as hitters smacked a few of his pitches into the outfield. In one sequence, Soriano fired a sinker to Ian Desmond, who couldn’t get a hard swing on the pitch. Desmond asked for it again and, this time, lined it into the outfield.
“The biggest thing is you can tell a pro just from someone like that,” Desmond said. “He came out and said he wanted to get me work. ‘Hey, come here. I want you to be ready.’ I think he said that because he’s not going to try to get me out. He’s going to make good pitches and he wants me to put good swings on the ball. That tells me he’s a veteran guy trying to look out for his teammates.”
Soriano, who arrived to Nationals camp six days later than he had hoped because of a visa paperwork holdup, is an 11-year veteran and is easing into action. The Nationals are relying on him to dictate how much he needs to do to get ready for the season. He said he has already thrown one bullpen session in his native Dominican Republic and now has thrown four in spring training. On Wednesday, Soriano said he was throwing at about 60 percent effort, pacing himself in only the first live session.
“I’m good,” Soriano said when asked about his arm strength so far. “It’s been a while since I’ve felt like this.”
Ideally, Soriano said he would appear in seven to eight spring training games to get ready for the season. He may appear in a game this week, he added, but that depends on how he feels on Thursday, the game schedule and how pitching coach Steve McCatty feels about it. But because of the World Baseball Classic, spring training starts earlier this year and Soriano takes that into account. “Because it’s a longer spring training, I have to give it time to throw a few more games,” Soriano said.
What stood out to Desmond about his new teammate was his cut fastball.
“He said he was throwing me the fastball but it was a cutter, which is fine,” Desmond said. “But it had a lot more depth late than what I saw. I never faced him, just what I saw on TV. It has some late movement and he obviously has a sinker to go with it and a four seamer. He’s turned one pitch into three so that’s pretty good.”
Chris Young threw his first live batting practice session just before Soriano, keeping the ball high in the zone. More from him to come later.