Under normal circumstances, Rafael Soriano picking up his first save as a National on opening day with a dominant ninth inning would be something we’d be discussing immediately following the game.
With what Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg did yesterday, however, Soriano’s performance took a bit of a backseat.
Now that we’ve broken down Harper and Strasburg’s efforts backwards and forwards and backwards again, however, we can talk a bit about Soriano’s 1-2-3 ninth, which included two strikeouts, the latter of which was of fearsome Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton to end the game.
Soriano had a rough spring statistically, posting an 8.10 ERA and struggling in his second-to-last Grapefruit League outing to the point that manager Davey Johnson said afterwards that Soriano looked “rusty.” The 33-year-old, who signed a two-year, $28 million deal with the Nationals this offseason, sure didn’t look rusty yesterday, however.
He threw 11 pitches, eight for strikes, with a fastball that topped out at 92 mph. Soriano had great movement on his cutter and threw back-to-back sharp sliders to Stanton.
“His pitches were perfect,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “Especially (against) Stanton. That guy can hit for a lot of power, but he froze him with his pitches. That was a great, great inning for him.
“The ball for him moves a lot. All the pitches move a lot. The players, they see something, they’re going to make a swing. The ball moves and freezes them. That was pretty good stuff. I’m excited to catch him.”
Ramos, meanwhile, had an impressive opening day himself, going 1-for-2 with a single and a walk. This was the 25-year-old’s first regular season appearance since tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee last May, and he said his emotions nearly got to him before the game, when he almost broke out in tears in the bullpen.
“I feel like today was my first game in the big leagues,” Ramos said. “I was too excited. I have a lot of work to do this year, and I have to keep my knee safe.”
Ramos’ teammates were clearly thrilled to have him out there, as well.
“It was almost like he never left,” Tyler Clippard said. “I felt very comfortable with him out there. We were on the same page all (day). I’m just happy for him to get back into the swing of things. I know he’s worked his tail off to get back to this point.”
Clippard, who worked the eighth inning ahead of Soriano, struggled to find the zone early in the frame, walking Donovan Solano on five pitches before retiring the next three in order to get out of any further trouble.
“I was a little too amped up,” he said. “I hadn’t really experienced that in spring training yet. I couldn’t get the ball down those first couple of pitches, but I got through it.”
Finally here’s one more side to the whole discussion about Johnson pulling Strasburg after he had thrown just 80 pitches over seven innings:
Johnson has an entire pitching staff that he needs to worry about at the start of the season, not just Strasburg. Had Clippard not thrown yesterday, he would’ve entered tomorrow’s game on four days’ rest, more than relievers are used to. Johnson wanted to protect Strasburg from throwing too many pitches, but he also likely wanted to protect his other pitchers from not getting enough work early in the season.