Nationals closer Rafael Soriano on pitching

brushback_harperIn today’s Post, I wrote a story about the Nationals new closer, Rafael Soriano, trying to peel back the layers of his quiet facade in an attempt to reveal a deeper glimpse into his personality, background and motivations. Despite his reserved reputation, he’s actually an engaging person once he gets to know you a little more and, in Spanish, he’s very funny. The story details his upbringing, his unusual path from his native Dominican Republic and how injuries prevented him from logging a large number of innings.

For space considerations, however, there wasn’t as much on Soriano’s thoughts on pitching and how he developed into the pitcher he is now. Even when he was first signed as a switching-hitting outfielder out of the Dominican, he had a potent arm. In 2007, he averaged nearly 95 mph on his fastball, hitting nearly 99 mph in a game. That velocity has slowly ticked down, averaging 92.3 mph last season, though not an alarming decline. He still hit 96 mph in a game last season. In his final regular season appearance, he sat between 92 and 94 mph.

“I learned I didn’t have my fastball 97, 95, 96, but I knew how to locate the ball,” Soriano said, describing his change over the years. “I remember facing Cincinnati [in 2009 with Atlanta], a game we won 7-0, and I struck out two batters throwing 88, 90. What pitching [former Seattle Mariners pitching coach] Rafael Chavez always told me that I need to learn to pitch not throwing my hardest. He knew that I had a potent arm but if there’s a day when you don’t have 97, 95 mile-per-hour fastball you gotta get outs.

“You gotta forget about that and if that fastball is not working – it’s just not there or you worked too hard before – you gotta learn to pitch. I learned that from him. I like to check my velocity just to know how I’m doing that day. Sometimes I feel like I can come out firing with my fastball but that day it may not be working. But locating the ball, I do the job just as well.”

Soriano’s best pitch, he said, is his fastball. He primarily throws two pitches, or types of two pitches, a fastball and slider. He has been known to have a cutter, which he threw 20 percent of the time in 2011, according to FanGraphs.com, but scrapped in 2012. But Soriano said he doesn’t technically throw a cutter. He has varying grips on his fastball, a two-seam and four-seam, and depending on how he holds the ball it appears to move like a cutter. According to FanGraphs.com, he threw his fastball nearly 60 percent of the time last season and his slider the rest of the time.

Soriano relies on the movement and location of his pitches to get outs. He is almost equal parts groundball and flyout pitcher with strikeouts. He strikes out a lot of batters (9.18 K/9 rate last season) but not at the ungodly rate of other closers like Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman. He doesn’t allow a lot of home runs (0.8 HR/9), but that’s not a dominating rate. He posted a strong 2.26 ERA. His FIP of 3.32 was very good but not spectacular. He relies on control, which he said helps keep his pitch counts low and more able to pitch more often. Last season, he averaged 16 pitches in his 63 appearances.

“That’s what a team needs, a closer with control If you don’t have control each time out, you’re going to throw 20, 25, 30 pitches and no manager wants that because then the next day you’re not 100 percent to pitch again,” Soriano said. “That’s why that’s helped me the most. I’ve learned over time how to be a better pitcher and that’s what got me here.”

FROM THE POST

A look at Rafael Soriano, the man behind the quiet facade

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Gio Gonzalez dominates in final outing, says Nats are ‘already mentally in D.C.’

Nationals preview 2013: The pitching staff

Nationals preview 2013: The lineup

Nationals vs. Mets

J.C. Romero to start in Syracuse barring an injury, for now

Behind the video: Getting to know Drew Storen

The Nationals and analytics, extended cut

TODAY’S GAME

The Nationals play one final pre-season game, hosting the New York Yankees in an exhibition game at 2 p.m. at Nationals Park. Jordan Zimmermann starts, opposed by Andy Pettitte.

DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY

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Gio Gonzalez dominates in final outing, says Nats are 'already mentally in D.C.'