Williams confident in Soriano despite slow start, Mattheus returns to the mound

VIERA, Fla. - Rafael Soriano’s numbers this spring aren’t pretty.

The Nationals closer has made two Grapefruit League appearances so far, each an inning long. In those two innings of work, Soriano has allowed seven runs on eight hits. He’s struck out three and walked none, but the right-hander’s location hasn’t been good, and it’s led to poor results.

Statistics only mean so much in spring training, but it’s hard to ignore the level to which Soriano has been hit around early on.

The veteran closer typically eases his way into spring, taking his early bullpen sessions easy and working mostly on fastball command in his game appearances. But manager Matt Williams doesn’t think Soriano has been lacking intensity during his two outings so far.

“I think he’s working on his pitches,” Williams said. “He talked with (pitching coach Steve McCatty) a little bit last night about his release point. Didn’t feel like it was exactly where he wanted it to be, but he’s a veteran guy. He’s a pro. He knows what he’s doing. Didn’t work out last night, but that’s OK. He’ll go again.”

Williams said last night that he isn’t concerned by Soriano’s slow start, and he reiterated that message today. It’s still very early in the process, and Soriano will likely make six or seven more appearances this spring, so he has time to work out the kinks.

So far, however, Soriano’s body language hasn’t been good on the mound, and the results haven’t been good, either.

Reliever Ryan Mattheus, meanwhile, threw a bullpen session this morning, his first time back on a mound since getting shut down due to inflammation in his chest about three weeks ago.

Mattheus threw 20 fastballs during the session and said that he snuck in two sliders, as well. He came out of the mound work really pleased with how he felt physically, saying that he was letting it loose pretty good. If there are no setbacks, Mattheus plans to rest two days and then throw another bullpen.

He could then progress to a live batting practice session, where he’d get to face hitters for the first time this spring.

Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who is working back from lower back spasms, came out of yesterday’s throwing session off flat ground feeling good, Williams said. Ohlendorf will throw again today and be moved along in his program.

“So far, so good,” Williams said.

One more bullpen note to pass along: Left-handed reliever Michael Gonzalez will throw in a minor league game today, and if all goes well, he’s scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut Thursday against the Mets.

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