At 33, Rafael Soriano is the second oldest player on the Nationals roster, but in terms of the playing experience, he has the most. He may not have the playoff experience of Jayson Werth, who played in 49 postseason games in six trips and played in two World Series, but Soriano has been to the playoffs four times and his career has spanned across five different teams over 12 seasons in two leagues.
He understands what forms winning teams and what dooms them. Right now, Soriano sees a young Nationals team one game under .500 again and weighed down by injuries and playing too tense.
“We’re not consistent and playing like we should and taking advantage of men on base or making the pitches we need to make,” Soriano said in Spanish over the weekend. “When a team is like this there’s not a lot you can do. We just have to make adjustments and do what we can do, as much the batters and us pitchers. And just play the game and play the way we should. From all the projections that this team would be better this year but the injuries have messed us up this season. We haven’t had our regular players because they’ve been injured and the team’s morale drops. But we’ve tried to keep our heads up. We’re good.”
Throughout the first few months of his tenure in Washington, Soriano has often wondered and asked teammates if the clubhouse culture is different from before. He said teammates have told him that last year the atmosphere was different, more fun and more music was played in the clubhouse.
Soriano once even thought veterans should call a team meeting to talk, identify the differences about this season and perhaps address them — but he said he can’t do that because he is one of the newest players on the team and wasn’t with them during last season’s joyous 98-win campaign. He said given tips and advice to a handful of players — Gio Gonzalez, Drew Storen, Ryan Zimmerman and previously Danny Espinosa — and found them to be receptive. But the pressure throughout the team, he said, is palpable.
“Like they’re thinking too much when they bat or pitch,” he said. “Let’s play baseball, let’s have fun and let’s do this. Let’s feel relaxed. There are some who have been here before, including last year. They’re the same pitchers, batters. So what’s the fear of doing the same thing again? Let’s do the things we can. Let’s just play baseball and not think about it too much.”
Soriano knows about dealing with pressure, having pitched for the New York Yankees from 2011 to 2012, a place spoiled with a winning history and expectations of a World Series title each season. Soriano blocked all that out by focusing simply on his job. What has puzzled him about the Nationals is why they have struggled despite having a year of experience under their belt and with a team mostly intact from last season.
“It’s early but anytime you have the chance to get on a streak, say of 20 games you win 15, it’s a chance to get more comfortable,” Soriano said. “But winning like this I don’t think we have a chance.”