Rafael Soriano working on new pitches

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During spring training, Nationals closer Rafael Soriano fiddled with a new pitch and he is considering adding it to his repertoire this season. However, he is coy about it and won’t commit to how much he will use it. He does admit that his aunt’s husband, who played baseball, showed him a new grip this winter in his native Dominican Republic. And when he threw it this way, the ball behaved similar to a sinker.

“I started throwing it like that,” he said. “It felt good. It’s a fastball but it moves differently.”

Soriano said he also threw a change-up in spring training. He said he the last time he threw a change-up was during his Seattle Mariner days, when he was last a starter in the majors in 2002. The 34-year-old closer ditched the pitch when he became a reliever.

But this spring, in which he allowed nine runs in 5 2/3 innings, Soriano used both. He wouldn’t say if either will be used in the regular season. According to Pitchf/x data, Soriano threw a two-seam fastball in the last two seasons, but he said the sinker-like fastball would be a new pitch. He said it moves down and away from left-handed batters.

“I don’t know how I’m going to use it,” he said. “If I’m going to throw it, I’m not going to say. If I am going to throw a new pitch that they haven’t seen, I’ll stay quiet and not saying anything. If it works, I should use it. If not, no. If it works, why not? It’s another pitch.”

Either pitch could help Soriano against left-handed batters, breaking down and away from the hitters. Last season, left-handed batters hit .274 with a .785 OPS against Soriano. In his career, left-handers hit .237 with a .713 OPS against him. The biggest reason for those struggles, Soriano said, was his troublesome slider.

In his dominant 2012 season with the Yankees, Soriano saved 42 games and posted a 2.26 ERA. He used his slider 40 percent of the time. Last season, he used it only 15.5 percent, relying more on fastballs and cut fastballs. In 2012, left-handers hit .217 against his slider, but last year it spiked to .471.

Soriano said he has focused heavily this offseason and in bullpen sessions this spring to improve the slider. He felt he was dropping his arm angle too much when throwing it. And when the pitch struggled early, he lost confidence in it and used it less.

“It was one of my problems early on,” he said. “I didn’t use it like I used when I pitched [in New York]. I know there’s only pitcher who saved all his games mostly with one pitch: Mariano [Rivera]. I can’t be like him. As a pitcher, if I throw one pitch, I always throw the fastballs and slider. If I don’t have one of those pitches, it gets harder.”

Despite a lackluster spring training, which Soriano said he never puts any stock into because it is spring training, he said he feels ready for the season. He is happy with the work on his slider, and the other new pitches, despite the results.

“The good part is that I’m feeling good about my arm,” he said. “That’s most important. The rest, as long as I feel good with my arm, that’s the only thing I can worry about. That was spring training. When the turn on the lights, then we’ll talk.”

FROM THE POST

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James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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