So it turns out spring training might be overrated. The Nationals spent $28 million over two years to sign closer Rafael Soriano during the offseason, a surprise move meant to bolster an already-strong bullpen. But he was delayed arriving to Viera, Fla., by visa issues in his native Dominican Republic. He appeared in just seven games in March, giving up six runs on 10 hits with three walks. This certainly didn't look like the guy who effectively replaced Mariano Rivera with the Yankees last summer and finished with 42 saves.
No need to worry. Soriano was apparently just bored. While pitching coach Steve McCatty would have liked a few more games for his new closer, Soriano shook off his rough spring and made the Miami Marlins look silly in a three-out save on Opening Day at Nationals Park on Monday.
"[Soriano] was always a guy, watching him on other teams, [who] shined when the lights came on," fellow reliever Tyler Clippard said. "I think we all realized that in spring training. He's a veteran guy. He knows what he needed to do to get ready and he was ready."
Certainly slugger Giancarlo Stanton couldn't figure him out. Soriano struck him out looking with a cut fastball that froze Stanton, who earlier had taken a regular four-seam fastball and swung through a slider. He didn't know what to expect. And that's Soriano's game. He won't blow fastballs past hitters at 95 mph anymore. But he doesn't have to, either.
"The best thing about [Soriano] ... is most closers just come in and try to overpower you. He's really, really smart," Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "He knows how to get people out. Stanton is not an easy guy to make look foolish like that."
Don't expect his new teammates to adopt Soriano's patented "untuck the jersey" move after the final out, though. Even if he is telling them the good karma leads to home runs.
"I said 'Sorry, Papi, I wasn't expecting that,'?" shortstop Ian Desmond joked. "I think he wants me to. But I don't know how I feel about that. It's gonna take a little warming up."
- Brian McNally