rafa soriano

To say the 2013 Washington Nationals are disappointing would be an understatement. Perhaps an unfair statement but an accurate one none the less. After a dream 2012 in which just about everything went right, the 2013 Nats continually experience that pesky “real life” stuff. Injuries and ineffectiveness plagues the starting rotation and, unlike last year, they haven’t coordinated several career years in their lineup.

In the wide-open NL East, all hope is not yet lost for the Nationals. For those searching for narrative-based games which can turn the season around, yesterday’s matinee win over the Pirates fits the bill. The Nats gave up a ninth inning lead only to win on a Bryce Harper walkoff homer in the home half of the final frame – his first round-tripper in more than three weeks.

An emotional lift after what appeared to be another heartbreaking setback for the Nationals. A feel-good victory if ever there was one…except trouble still lurks for the Nats.

In a rare display of ump showery, both managers were ejected from last night’s game during separate spats with the umpiring crew. With Nats skipper Davey Johnston out of the picture, bench coach and former big league catcher Randy Knorr took over the reins of the team.

It was Knorr who oversaw the ninth inning bullpen collapse, making the executive decision to remove struggling closer Rafael Soriano in favor of left-handed rookie Ian Krol. Soriano entered the ninth with a four run lead thanks to the Nats posting a three-spot in the bottom of the eight.

Soriano wasn’t effective, walking the first two batters he faced then giving up a two-run double to Jordy Mercer. A strikeout and a walk put two runners on base for NL home run leader Pedro Alvarez. Knorr had seen enough, yanking his expensive reliever toy in exchange for the rookie lefty.

As Knorr explained it to the Washington Post:

“I was watching him pitch, and in the past, I’ve seen him pitch and when it’s not a save opportunity, he doesn’t have the same effect when he’s pitching,” Knorr said. He wasn’t throwing the ball over the plate and a couple lefties were coming up. I like the way Krol throws the ball. Figured, if you don’t want to be in that mode to shut the game down, I’ll bring somebody else in.”

Unfortunately for Randy Knorr’s relationship with the closer, Knol wouldn’t shut the door, walking Pedro Alvarez and eventually surrendering a two-run single to tie the game.

The story ends well but Rafael Soriano is a notoriously prickly subject, not exactly universally loved by his teammates through his many, many big league stops. Like many relievers, he lives and dies by his save total. Knorr mentions Soriano’s inability to “bring it” in non-save situations, which sounds like a bunch of junk until you read the above linked WaPo piece, wherein Adam Kilgore astutely notes that Rafael Soriano does not perform any of his countless rituals before pitching when it isn’t a save situation, nor does he ceremoniously untuck his jersey when he won’t be credited with a save.

A player like Soriano has long seen his compensation tied directly to the number of saves he amasses, so obviously he has a vested interested in racking up as many as possible. Few managers want to anger their players, so managing to the save is an easy way to keep at least one person happy.

It will be interesting to see how the Nats bullpen shakes out over the remainder of the season. Considered such an area of strength, the Nats must now confront numerous questions about the viability of their pen construction. What to make of Drew Storen, their once closer now relegated to sixth inning duty or worse?

Some suggest a schism exists within the Nats clubhouse, with Jim Bowden of ESPN citing the recent firing of hitting coach Rick Eckstein as a breaking point which currently divides the team.

If I know anything about the dynamics of a Major League clubhouse (and I don’t), I’d guess the bench coach playing manager and pulling the sullen closer mid-inning in front of the home crowd is a great way to fix it. If ever a single act was sure to clear the air, it was this one.

And the rest

Speaking of Sorianos, Alfonso Soriano is juuuust about ready to rejoin the Yankees after the Yanks and Cubs worked out a deal for the veteran outfielder. Hug watch! [Chicago Tribune]

Jake Peavy, better than Matt Garza? [Fangraphs]

No big deal, just a guy predicting Chris Davis might challenge the all time home run record…in 2008 [Beyond the Boxscore]

Four fake trades [Brisbee Nation]

Dustin Pedroia and money on the table [Speier WEEI]

Will Venable, trying to make the Padres relevant. Failing, but trying.

Mike Trout auto link [Sports on Earth]