On Wednesday, bench coach Randy Knorr made one of the boldest decisions of the season when he lifted Rafael Soriano, the team’s $28 million veteran closer, for rookie left-hander Ian Krol in the ninth inning. The Nationals were clinging to a 7-5 lead over the Pirates after Soriano had coughed up two runs, notched only one out and had two men on base.
Krol allowed the game-tying hit with two outs but prevented further damage. Knorr, running the team after Manager Davey Johnson was ejected in the fifth inning, was blunt after the game about his quick hook of the team’s closer. A day later, Johnson deferred to the decision-making of Knorr.
“It’s sometimes what you do,” Johnson said. “You go with what you’re seeing. I was watching in my office and I don’t try to control things from my office. Once I get ejected, I’m done. I know what we want to do in that spot. I think Soriano was more frustrated with the strike zone and sometimes was a little inconsistent. I’m sure he’s been in situations like that before. It shouldn’t have had that much effect on him.”
That was the first time Soriano wasn’t allowed to finish an inning all season. Soriano has blown four saves this season and each of those times Johnson allowed him to finish his own mess. On Wednesday, Soriano entered for the first time in five days but it wasn’t a save situation. Knorr didn’t like the way Soriano was throwing and left-hander Pedro Alvarez was coming to bat with two on and no outs. So, he turned to a rookie reliever inexperienced in that high-pressure situation.
Asked if he would have pulled Soriano, too, Johnson again deferred. “I don’t know,” he said. “I want to see it coming out of his hand, the way hitters are reacting. A good baseball man trusts whatever they do.”
Johnson has managed from the clubhouse after an ejection in the past — telling reporters a story about when he managed the Mets in which he overrode a decision and called for a different reliever to come — but doesn’t anymore. The coaches “know what I’m thinking and they see what I do,” he said. “They’re close to what’s going on.”
By general, informal consensus, the clubhouse supported Knorr’s decision to pull Soriano. One player said he didn’t think Johnson would have done the same, but he liked the move. Soriano was in the clubhouse for some of the time in which it is open to reporters before Friday’s doubleheader, but he was busy or on the phone, nothing out of the ordinary. According to someone close to him, he took the blown save hard, as he does after bad games.
Knorr’s decision also was a small glimpse into his managing style and decision-making. The Nationals will need a new manager next season, with Knorr potentially among the candidates as General Manager Mike Rizzo has said in the past he likes to promote from within the organization. Johnson voiced his support for Knorr as a potential future major league manager.
“He’s managed at Triple-A,” Johnson said. “My requirements, and I got in trouble for voicing them with a couple of my other managers around the league, somebody asked me what is the criteria for a big league manager. The ideal, I said, is to manage in your system so you know the talent in the system. That’s the criteria. Having managed, there were coaches that never managed took offense to what I said. But I was talking about the ideal guy.”