An all-star appearance would mean different things to Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano, two of the many Nationals who have compelling-yet-borderline cases to make baseball’s annual showcase. Storen would strike a blow for overlooked set-up relievers and make a statement in the wake of his demotion a year ago to Class AAA. Soriano could make up for past seasons when he thought he deserved to make the team but was passed over.
With Major League Baseball set to announce all-star rosters Sunday evening, the Nationals present about a half-dozen strong candidates, but none obvious choices. Anthony Rendon has impressed his teammates and opponents, but his stats are not eye-popping. Adam LaRoche has a .400 on-base percentage, but first base in the National League is loaded. Jordan Zimmermann has a sub-3.00 ERA, and Stephen Strasburg leads the league in strikeouts, but both have endured a few rocky patches.
The Nationals’ bullpen as a whole deserves some kind of recognition. Soriano and Storen – even with another strong season from former all-star Tyler Clippard – are the best bets.
Storen owns a dazzling 1.03 ERA and has allowed only four of 11 inherited runners to score. His .797 WHIP ranks sixth among National League relievers.
“The year Sori is having, the year other guys are having, they’re very deserving of it,” Storen said. “For me, it would be an incredible honor. There’s a lot of guys having good years. It all works itself out though, you know?”
Storen realizes how tough it would be for him make it to Minnesota without the cache of a closer. In 2011, Clippard made it as a set-up reliever.
“I was really happy for him when he did make it, because set-up guys don’t always get the glory closers do,” Storen said. “Like we’ve talked about, the save isn’t always in the ninth. You face the heart of the order sometimes. It’s a harder job in some aspects. You don’t always know when you’re going to pitch. Clip is very deserving. He’s been deserving multiple years doing it.”
“You look at the year Sori is having, it’s unbelievable,” Storen added. “There’s a reason those guys are throwing the ninth inning, too.”
Soriano produced jangled nerves on his way to a 38-save season in 2013, his first season in Washington. This year, he has been dominant, striking out 32 batters in 34 innings with a 0.853 WHIP. His 20 saves rank seventh in the NL, and he has blown only two.
Soriano made the all-star game in 2010, his only appearance. He could have made it in 2012, when he replaced Mariano Rivera as the Yankees’ closer and saved 20 games with a 1.60 ERA before the break. In 2009 with Atlanta, Soriano had a 1.48 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. Even with his excellent first half, Soriano isn’t counting on anything.
“I don’t think about that,” Soriano said. “If it happens, I’m going to be happy. Not because they give it to me – nothing has been given to me. I work for that.”
One of Soriano’s most impressive performances came in his save Wednesday, even if he needed to strand runners at the corners. He buzzed his fastball at 94 mph, several ticks up from his average this season.
“I feel like I’m in the Dominican with the weather,” Soriano said. “It’s that Dominican weather. I’m feeling like I can let it go. I know that I can throw when I feel it. When I want to throw it, I throw it. Right now, for me, it’s location. I can locate with 92, 93. I don’t need to throw 94, 95.”
So, Soriano sometimes sacrifices velocity for movement and location, using cutters in the low 90s. But even when lets loose, that doesn’t change.
“94 be cutter,” Soriano said. “I don’t throw nothing straight.”
He’ll find out soon if he’ll be throwing in the all-star game. He said a nod would make his family happy, but he also would be fine with a trip home to the Dominican over the break.
“When are we going to find out? Sunday?” Soriano said. “Come talk to me after Sunday.”