On the Soriano decision

Prior to the All-Star break, Rafael Soriano punched up a 0.97 ERA in 37 games. He recorded 22 saves in 24 chances, had an opponents' batting average of .153 and had a WHIP of 0.81.

He was simply one of the best relievers in the majors.

Since the All-Star break, Soriano has a 6.98 ERA in 21 games. He's recorded just nine saves in 14 chances, has an opponents' batting average of .325 and a WHIP of 1.76.

soriano-dismayed-sidebar.jpgThings have turned south for Soriano in a hurry. And now Matt Williams has to decide how to proceed.

Williams suggested last night, after Soriano blew a three-run ninth-inning lead in a loss to the Phillies, that he could go another direction with the closing role for the time being.

"We'll address it," Williams said.

"We need to address it," he added.

Williams named three potential options to replace Soriano - Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Matt Thornton. All have some experience in the closer's role.

Clippard saved 32 games for the Nationals in 2012 before losing his closing job down the stretch. He has a strong 2.04 ERA this season and has one save on the year, but has allowed five earned runs over his last eight appearances.

Storen notched 43 saves back in 2011, but hasn't consistently been in the closer role since. He has a stellar 1.37 ERA this season, has one save this year and hasn't allowed a run in his last 12 appearances.

Thornton has 23 saves over the course of his 11-year career, with no more than eight in any single season. The 37-year-old lefty has been tremendous since joining the Nats a month ago, posting a spotless 0.00 ERA, allowing seven hits and one walk with eight strikeouts in his 9 1/3 innings.

Does Williams tab one guy as the closer for the time being, saying he wants to give Soriano a chance to work back into form in lower-leverage situations? Does he go with a closer-by-committee approach, declining to select one ninth-inning guy but instead going on a game-by-game, matchup-by-matchup approach?

We shall see.

Regardless, I think Williams handled this situation properly to this point. Yes, Soriano had pitched poorly for the last couple of months (and specifically since the middle of August), but taking a proven closer who is respected in the clubhouse out of the ninth-inning job when you're seven games up in the division is a move that needs to be carefully thought out. You don't make that move with a veteran guy unless he's really struggling. Otherwise, you risk creating clubhouse tension. And Soriano reached that point lately.

Last night, Williams didn't air Soriano out to the media. He didn't announce anything dramatic before speaking with the players involved in his decision. He said he would have a discussion with Soriano on Saturday and decide how to proceed.

Williams knows he needs to do his best to keep Soriano's confidence high if he does make a change with the closer role, and so he'll handle this situation by talking it out with his veteran right-hander.

Make no mistake, the Nationals are a better team when Soriano is on his game. Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty have to try to get him back to that point, whether he ends up pitching the ninth inning, or becomes more of a set-up guy. Having Soriano at his best along with Clippard and Storen gives the Nats bullpen great depth and makes it incredibly tough on the opposition.

And Soriano has earned the right - both based on his career accomplishments and what he did in the first half of the season - to be given every chance to get back on track.

His teammates will tell you as much.

"He's our closer," Adam LaRoche said. "He's done it for a long time, he knows what he's doing and he knows how good he is. He's put up some really good years. It's really easy through a short stretch to second-guess what somebody is doing. I've got a pretty good track record, and when I go for two or three weeks like I've never swung a bat before, it's easy to second-guess. 'Should somebody else be in there, should we give him a break, should we platoon him?' Or whatever it is. That's pretty natural. I think this will pass and nobody will think twice about it."

"He's our guy," said Denard Span. "He's done a heck of a job for us all year. You can't be too hard on him, man. I think we as a team believe he's giving it his best. It's been rough for him, but we've got to find a way to get him going and just pick him up. We don't want him to get discouraged right now. We need him. We're going to need him down the stretch."

Does that mean Soriano will end up closing games again late in September and into the postseason? We don't know that right now. But while a change is needed, Williams will continue to think big-picture when determining how to use Soriano going forward, knowing that he could still be a valuable weapon down the stretch.

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