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Soriano brings Nationals' bullpen to next level

Right-handers Storen, Clippard slide into setup roles for deep relief corps

Soriano brings Nationals' bullpen to next level
WASHINGTON -- With the addition of closer Rafael Soriano on a two-year, $28 million contract, the Nationals have strengthened an already impressive bullpen, which will now feature former closers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard in setup roles.

It was a deal that made some of Soriano's former teammates believe the Nationals are going to be tougher in 2013. As free-agent reliever Peter Moylan, who played with Soriano on the Braves, puts it, "With the addition of Raffy, it's going to turn into a six-inning game."

According to infielder/outfielder Willie Harris, the Nats are getting more than just a great arm.

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"It's a great pickup for the Nationals. Knowing Soriano, I can say he is a big-time competitor, always wants the ball," said Harris, who played with Soriano when both were with the Braves in 2007. "One thing I can say about the guys in the clubhouse, they are going to love him. They are going to eat really well because his mom can really cook. They are getting a quality guy, definitely a quality pitcher."

Soriano brings more than food to the table. According to Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, Soriano is a student of the game. Before and after games, according to Hickey, Soriano would talk about situations that happened during a game. Soriano has an arsenal of pitchers, which includes a fastball, cutter, changeup and slider.

"He didn't need a lot of coaching," Hickey said. "He was a knowledgeable player. He was a guy who didn't have a dominant pitch. ... For a closer, he did the best job of pitching that I've ever seen -- setting up hitters, not just coming after it with a 99-mph fastball or gimmick pitch.

"He really did a good job from both sides of the plate, changing speeds. He pitches at 91 mph when he could pitch at 94, but he saved that for when he really wanted it. What impressed me was the way he actually pitched."

Soriano arguably had his best season in 2012 after replacing Yankees legend Mariano Rivera, who missed most of the season because of a knee injury. All Soriano did was save 42 games and post a 2.26 ERA in 69 appearances.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin was Soriano's teammate for two years in New York, and Martin said Soriano was fearless on the mound.

"It didn't matter who he was facing or what the score was, he is going to be the same guy every time he goes out there. He is a professional," Martin said. "He understands what his job is. He just goes out there and he has the same attitude every time he goes out there. It's pretty simple with him.

"He shows up at the yard, has his routine. You can't rattle him easily. He just has calm nerves, he does his job. Obviously, he is blessed with a good arm and ability. He just goes out there and has the same attitude every time out."

Off the field, Martin said Soriano kept to himself most of the time, but loves to joke with people once he gets to know his teammates. One American League scout said Soriano has a reputation of being standoffish and aloof at times.

"He is a little different, quiet," the scout said. "He doesn't talk to a lot of people. You might get the wrong impression, but he is a nice person. He will take the ball and put the Nationals over the top."

Said Moylan: "He will let you know when he is going to be loud, but the majority of the time, he will do his own thing. If he has something to say and he needs to air it out, you are going to know about it. ... He would tell you things that you should or shouldn't do. He obviously has more years under his belt now."

With Soriano on board, a National League scout believes the Nationals will not trade Storen or Clippard. If anything, the scout believes, Washington will not make a move until Spring Training. There isn't a rush to trade one of the relievers. In fact, the scout believes the Nats will keep Storen and Clippard, who will become the setup men.

Storen missed half of the 2012 season because of bone chips in his right elbow. He returned to action after the All-Star break but didn't reclaim his role as the closer until September, when Clippard slumped.

Soriano comes to a team that saw its bullpen implode during the NL Division Series, allowing 16 runs against the Cardinals.

"The Nationals have to hang on to Clippard and Storen -- for right now," the NL scout said. "You never know what you are going to have as far as injuries in Spring Training. Those guys are always going to have market value as far as being trade bait."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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