Rafael Soriano, untucked: Nationals’ new closer ends workday in style

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

View results

The ritual is one that closer Rafael Soriano has been doing for some time. For him, it simply means the work day is over.

The final out is made, so Soriano untucks his jersey.

After he sealed the Nationals’ 2-0 Opening Day victory over the Miami Marlins, as Wilson Ramos pumped his right fist and pointed toward the sky, Soriano forcefully tugged out both sides of his jersey.

Spring training, he seemed to say with a flourish, was done.

“He asked me why I didn’t [untuck my jersey],” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “I said, ‘Sorry, Papi, I didn’t know.’ I wasn’t expecting that. I think he wants me to, but I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s going to take a little warming up to.

“He said if you do it, you hit homers, so I might jump on board.”

In the blur that was No. 1 of 162 for the Nationals this season, Soriano’s contribution at the end could’ve been easy to gloss over. But the contrast between the long-limbed right-hander who took the mound on Monday and the one who made a handful of appearances in the Grapefruit League was stark.

The man who struck out the fearsome Giancarlo Stanton on five pitches 91 mph or below, watching him flail at one and unable to take the bat off his shoulder at two other strikes, was on another level.

“Obviously, spring training’s overrated,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, in reference to Soriano’s 8.10 ERA over seven Grapefruit League appearances.

Ramos’ eyes grew wide when the topic was broached, flabbergasted by the difference in the pitcher he saw.

“So much different,” Ramos said. “He changed his mind a lot. His pitches were perfect. … The ball moves and freezes them. That was pretty good stuff. I’m excited to catch him.”

There was a time when Soriano was a power arm. When his fastball was clocked closer to the mid-90s than the low ones. But when several of your pitches have 8-12 inches of vertical movement, according to Pitch FX data, there’s no need for the extra velocity.

He threw just four of his 11 pitches outside the strike zone — including one that induced a swinging strike.

“It’s pretty hard for Raffy to get excited in the seventh inning facing numbers 78, 97 and 64, I’m sure,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, referring to the high uniform numbers typically issued to minor leaguers in spring training.

“The best thing about him, and I’ve talked to him a little bit and obviously watched him, is most closers just come in and try to overpower you,” Zimmerman continued. “He’s really, really smart. He knows how to get people out. Stanton, that’s not an easy guy to make look foolish like that.”

Soriano is quiet and mostly keeps to himself inside a Nationals clubhouse filled with players who’ve known one another for years. “He’s an individual,” Johnson said, adding that he has enjoyed getting to know the closer little by little.

When the New York Yankees visited D.C. last week for an exhibition game, Soriano was animated and excited in talking to some of his old teammates and bench coach Tony Pena. He’s still getting accustomed to his new home, and he sneaked out of the Nationals’ clubhouse quickly Monday before most reporters could catch him for a comment.

His quirks aren’t yet a part of the fabric. But if he continues to pitch the way he did on Opening Day, it probably won’t take much time before they are.

Maybe with a teammate or two even joining in on the untuck celebration.

“It’s going to take a lot for me to do that. We’ll see,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, before he was jokingly informed that Soriano had told Desmond about its correlation to hitting home runs.

“Oh, he did?” LaRoche said, a smile coming over his face and his tone suddenly more upbeat. “I’ll talk to him about that.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Get Adobe Flash player
You Might Also Like
  • Nathan Walker waits to take the ice during the Capitals' development camp at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Monday, July 9, 2012. (Ryan M.L. Young/The Washington Times)

    Nathan Walker’s NHL dreams send him around the world

  • Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon, third from left, smiles as he warms up with his teammates who were were wearing t-shirts in support of him for the All Star game before an interleague baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park, Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Anthony Rendon not an All-Star, but he’s been Nats’ MVP

  • Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter speaks during a media availability in the dugout before an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Monday, July 7, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    LOVERRO: Suck-up Buck Showalter needs history lesson

  • Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez, left, celebrates with goalkeeper Sergio Romero after scoring the decisive goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup final. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    Argentina beats Dutch in shootout to reach World Cup final

  • Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson speaks during a media availability after an NFL football training camp practice at Redskins Park, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely by NFL — again

  • Celebrities In The News
  • This image from video released by Funny Or Die shows President Obama, left, with actor-comedian Zach Galifianakis during an appearance on "Between Two Ferns," the digital short with a laser focus on reaching people aged 18 to 34. The president urged young people to sign up for the new health care plan through an appearance posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014, on the comic website Funny or Die, bypassing TV talk show titans like Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel for an online audience. (AP Photo/Funny Or Die)

    Obama’s ‘Ferns’ interview gets Emmy nod

  • ** FILE ** In this Nov. 12, 2013, file photo, actor Alec Baldwin leaves court in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

    Alec Baldwin in talks to play Rob Ford-like mayor in new NBC drama

  • Dinesh D'Souza's "America: Imagine the World Without Her" got promising reviews from two major Hollywood publications. It opens nationwide Wednesday.

    D’Souza on Costco debacle: ‘It was really bizarre’