Johnson on Soriano’s outing, Storen’s rebound (plus Gonzalez note)

VIERA, Fla. - It’ll take a lot more than one subpar outing for Nationals manager Davey Johnson to lose faith in new closer Rafael Soriano.

Soriano had a hiccup Monday afternoon, coughing up a 1-0 lead in an outing that Johnson said was nowhere near as bad as it looked.

“I thought that was the best he’s thrown all spring,” Johnson said after Soriano yielded four runs on five hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning, absorbing the loss in a 5-1 defeat. “I thought he made some quality pitches and they hit some pretty good pitches. I was really pleased with the way he threw the ball.”

Soriano’s ERA rose from 4.50 to 11.57 as a result of the outing, though the right-hander opted to stay in the game when pitching coach Steve McCatty, on Johnson’s orders, offered him the chance to come out.

“I know he wasn’t pleased with the results, but I liked the way the ball was coming out of his hand,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Soriano has been struggling to command several of his pitches, which probably explains why he was throwing mostly fastballs against the Tigers. But Johnson will gladly accept the track record the free agent brought to Washington, and said the rough patch is something that can be worked through.

“It’s all part of the motivation down here,” Johnson explained. “You think you’re at a certain point - today he felt he was pretty good, had pretty good stuff - and they get a few little hits. A split, a slider. They were in pretty good location and didn’t get hit hard. His fastball that got hit was in the location he wanted.”

While Soriano struggled, at least judging by the numbers, right-hander Drew Storen rebounded from a terrible inning against the Astros on Saturday to throw a scoreless frame. Never mind that Storen’s inning - in which he allowed a hit and a walk with three strikeouts - came against Tigers farmhands. It was a step in the right direction.

After Saturday’s debacle, Johnson pledged to get Storen more frequent work - pitching him every other day, on successive days, for more than an inning. Anything to help him work through what was troubling him.

“He came in overthrowing and then he started pitching,” Johnson said. “I had a conversation with him earlier, said, ‘You’re going to go a lot, sometimes you’re going to go four outs. I want you to start pitching.’ “

This time around, Johnson said, Storen was more “free and easy.” The righty wasn’t taking up as much time worrying about positioning and seemed more focused on pitching, the manager added.

Johnson said right-hander Henry Rodriguez, who had a challenging ninth inning, was in the same boat and needs to pitch more. Rodriguez loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of walks and a hit batter, then proceeded to work out of the jam by allowing only a sacrifice fly.

Gio’s line: Pitching against Double-A Harrisburg in a minor league game this morning, left-hander Gio Gonzalez worked six innings, allowing a run on seven hits and striking out nine. He threw 87 pitches, 59 for strikes.

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