Before the Yankees signed Rafael Soriano as their setup man, he had arguably the best season of any closer in 2010. He led the league with 45 saves and posted an absurd 0.80 WHIP — thanks, in part, to crazy luck, like a .199 BABIP and the second-lowest home-run rate of his career.
So although the Yankees made Soriano the richest setup man in baseball, his three-year, $35-million contract also came complete with some serious insurance — Mariano Rivera insurance. Of course, no one would’ve wanted Soriano pitching in place of Rivera in 2011. His luck disappeared and his home-run and walk rate soared during a disastrous, injury-prone season.
The club is pretty lucky to have him now. With Rivera and David Robertson both on the DL, Soriano is now 8 for 8 in save chances in 2012 after last night’s escape against the Rays. He has still walked too many batters (nine in 20 innings), but Soriano has kept the ball in the park and pitched to a 1.80 ERA. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last eight outings.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game, I spoke to Soriano, who said confidence in his role and an improved comfort level in New York have allowed him to thrive despite sliding into some of the biggest shoes in Yankee history.
“I don’t feel afraid or anything like that,” he said. “I’ve done it before. Nothing has changed.”
“I know last year I had problems. I didn’t do what I did with Tampa,” he added. “I put everything away. I thought I’d come out this year and see what happens, and I feel more comfortable.”
The ninth inning has become home again. Joe Girardi said Tuesday that Soriano would likely remain in that role even when Robertson returns, which should be soon. (He is scheduled to throw batting practice today, followed, perhaps, by a rehab game this weekend.) The manager likes Soriano’s experience closing games, and won’t force Robertson back into that role after a prolonged absence.
“I think you have to let Robbie work his way back. I’m not going to be hesitant to putting him in the eighth inning,” Girardi said. “I think it would be a little unfair to put him in the ninth inning when he comes back. He’s only really done it once and he’s coming off an injury.”
Both Robertson and Soriano have said they support Girardi’s decision, regardless of what it is. Right now, Soriano has made the choice a simple one. Here’s his line since returning to the closing role on May 10:
Soriano as closer
Earned runs: 1
“I feel comfortable so far. Whatever decision he makes is fine,” Soriano said. “For me, what I want is to be winning. I want to try and do the best I can to win.”