When people talk about who should end up as the Nationals’ All-Star selection this season, you hear the names of Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon tossed around a good bit.
Heck, despite a batting average that sits in the .230s and a sub-.300 on-base percentage, Ian Desmond has even been mentioned as a possible pick for the National League All-Star squad because his power numbers to this point in the season - 15 homers and 51 RBIs - are up there among the best for shortstops in the league.
Names you don’t hear as frequently, names that you probably should, are the ones of the Nats’ late-inning relievers.
Tyler Clippard started slowly this season, but has a 1.95 ERA, has made a whopping 40 appearances, and has struck out 49 in 37 innings. Drew Storen has a 1.03 ERA, and has more than a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And then there’s Rafael Soriano, who has a 1.06 ERA, 20 saves in 22 chances and just 18 hits allowed in 34 innings.
Soriano might frustrate some Nationals fans because his saves can tend to turn into high-wire-act type of innings, but the numbers don’t lie. The 34-year-old closer has been tremendous this season, allowing a run in just three of his 34 appearances.
Last night, Soriano notched that 20th save of the season, but it got a bit interesting before he was able to lock it down. A walk and a single put the potential tying run 90 feet away, but Soriano took care of business to close out the Nats’ fifth straight win.
Believe it or not, that was actually Soriano’s first inning worked in his last six appearances in which he allowed an opposing hitter to reach base. Five straight three-up, three-down innings had preceded last night’s outing.
“He’s been going so good,” Clippard said. “I don’t think he’s had a baserunner in like a month. And you know what, sometimes that’s difficult when you’re not pitching out of the stretch that much and you get a guy on and you haven’t done it in a while, it’s kind of different. But he was able to make some pitches and got us a W there.”
Soriano ended up with 43 saves last season, but posted a 3.11 ERA and 1.230 WHIP, largely due to one stretch in August when he hit a rough patch. This season, there have been no such rough patches thus far, and Soriano’s numbers have been tremendously good as a result.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” Desmond said. “I think watching on TV or watching from the stands, his misses, people take those as uncalculated. But he knows exactly what he’s doing, exactly where he wants to put the ball and he executes it a lot. Kind of like (Livan Hernandez), I’ve started to kind of learn what his sequences are.
“I’ve got 100 percent confidence in him every time he takes the mound.”
Most of the time, we’re used to seeing Soriano’s fastball come in at 90-91 mph. Last night, it popped 94 on a few occasions. Not bad from a 34-year-old with 555 career big league appearances under his belt.
“I think he’s fresh, I think he feels good,” Matt Williams said. “You’ll see the 90, 91 (mph) cutter some times, the slider in the mid-to-high 80s. But tonight he felt fresh. He had some days off and hasn’t been used a lot. I’d imagine that if he’s two or three days in a row, he’s not quite that. But he’s throwing the ball pretty well.”