Rafael Soriano on his recent shaky outings, how to improve

Toni L. Sandys/TWP

Toni L. Sandys/TWP

Rafael Soriano stood out in right field during Wednesday’s batting practice, as his teammates shagged balls, and spent most of the time chatting with pitching coach Steve McCatty. The conversation was typical of the long season: the pitching coach and a pitcher talking about strategy and sharing scouting reports on opposing hitters.

But earlier in the day, Soriano watched video of Tuesday’s shaky performance in which he surrendered a two-run home run with a three-run lead in the ninth before notching the save. The issue over his past two outings, his worst of the young season with a new team, he said was that he didn’t have the correct feel for his pitches. Over the course of a long season, pitchers sometimes lose the feel of their breaking balls and Soriano couldn’t rely on his slider.

In his last two outings, Soriano has stuck primarily to his fastball. Unlike his first two saves of the season in which his stuff was sharper and fastball moved dramatically, Soriano’s stuff has been flat. Over the last two outings, he has thrown 40 pitches and only four were breaking balls. The two-run home run Soriano allowed to Alex Rios in the ninth inning on Tuesday was on a slider that didn’t break and caught the heart of the plate.

“I’ve only thrown a few games and over time I’ll get more adjusted,” he said before Wednesday’s game. “It depends on the batter [how many breaking balls I throw]. The two home runs I’ve given up are on sliders that weren’t good. But I’ve been working on it and I hope it gets better.”

In watching video of his outings, Soriano said he also noticed that he isn’t throwing his slider with “the same tempo” as his fastball, a clue for opposing batters. He has spent time talking with McCatty and relying on scouting reports because he hasn’t pitched in the National League since 2009 when he was the Atlanta Braves’ closer.

Soriano’s stuff isn’t that of a typical closer. His fastball sits between 90 and 93 miles per hour and he relies on movement and location instead of overpowering velocity in the high 90s. His fastball is like two or three pitches with its variations of movement depending on how he grips it, including a cutter. Manager Davey Johnson said it doesn’t exactly matter how many breaking balls are thrown.

“You can get just about anybody out when you locate and the sequence you use it in,” Johnson said. “I’m not worried. He’s a veteran. He’s got a proven track record.”

Soriano said a tight leg muscle isn’t to blame. He said he “yanked” a leg muscle on Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds when he broke for home after a wild pitch. Johnson believes it’s not an issue, nor does Soriano, who said his leg feels fine and isn’t bothering him.

Soriano has been the Nationals’ primary closer through the first week of the season but in Johnson’s two-tiered bullpen system the manager could turn to others when he has leaned too heavily on Soriano. Johnson may have to turn to Drew Storen in a few weeks for other reasons. Soriano’s wife is soon set to give birth to their second child together.

Soriano said his wife, who is living in New York until their son is born, is scheduled to give birth on April 22, the first game of a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s unclear now but Soriano could likely request a day off to be with his wife and Johnson might have to turn to Storen to close a game. The last time Storen was asked to close was on Oct. 12 in Game 5 of the NLDS in which he surrendered four runs in the ninth inning to lose the series.

>>> Christian Garcia (forearm) and Cole Kimball (lat muscle) are in Viera in extended spring training and progressing well, Johnson said. Neither is expected to appear on a mound in a game for a few more weeks. Garcia said recently he hopes to be pitching in games by the end of the month.

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