Soriano battling some right shoulder discomfort
Mike Gonzalez was ready and somewhat expecting to pitch the ninth inning of Friday night’s loss to the Phillies. He knew the situation would allow him to begin the inning against two left-handed batters and was also cognizant of the fact that Rafael Soriano had been battling some discomfort behind his right shoulder.
But after Gonzalez prolonged his recent success with an impressive eighth-inning escape act, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to stick by the book and insert his closer into the ninth inning of a tie game at home.
Four pitches later, Ryan Howard prolonged Soriano’s recent struggles against left-handed hitters with a game-winning leadoff homer.
When Soriano arrived at Turner Field on Saturday, he admitted that he’s been feeling some muscular discomfort behind his right shoulder. But the once-dominant closer wasn’t willing to use this ailment as an excuse to explain the fact that he’s now allowed three game-winning homers over the course of his past eight starts.
“He’s just tired,” Gonzalez said. “He’s been used a lot. I know how Soriano works and I think these couple of days are going to be great for him.”
The Braves wouldn’t say that Soriano wasn’t available for Saturday afternoon’s game. As for the right-handed reliever, when asked about his availability, he said that he thought he could pitch again as soon as Sunday.
Soriano was pitching on Friday night with five days rest. After he felt some fatigue after pitching for a fourth straight day last Saturday night in Los Angeles, he asked the Braves not to make him available during Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games against the Nationals.
“He’s throwing 95 (mph) with every pitch,” said Cox in reference to Soriano, who did hit at least 94 with each of the five four-seam fastballs he threw during Friday’s ninth inning.
While he may have possessed his ability to maximize the velocity of his fastball, Soriano is still looking to regain the success he’d possessed while limiting left-handed hitters to a .179 batting average and zero homers before the All-Star break.
Since the break left-handed hitters have hit .435 (10-for-23) against Soriano and accounted for each of the game-winning homers that he’s surrendered. As for right-handed hitters, they have gone hitless in the 18 at-bats they’ve recorded against the stone-faced right-hander since the break.
“When he’s on, nobody hits against him,” Gonzalez said.
With the Phillies sending two left-handed hitters (Howard and Ibanez) to the plate to begin the ninth inning, Gonzalez admits he was among those who wondered if he’d be given a chance to make his third multi-inning appearance of the season. He hasn’t allowed a run during the previous two he’s completed this year.
“I was definitely ready to go and in that situation, I kind of thought that also,” Gonzalez said after being told many fans questioned why he wasn’t used. “But then again, it was the ninth inning and you know you’ve got to put your closer in there.
“I would have totally understood (going two innings) it if would have given Soriano another day. Another day is huge. I would have sacrificed two innings yesterday and then come back today to see how I felt.”
Howard, who has hit .193 and accounted for just three of his 28 homers against left-handed pitchers this year, took advantage of Cox’s decision to go with Soriano. The Phillies first baseman is now hitting .311 against right-handed pitchers.
Since July 1, Howard has hit .150 (6-for-40) with zero homers against left-handed pitchers and .337 with eight homers against right-handed pitchers.
Meanwhile Gonzalez has limited left-handed hitters to a .159 (7-for-44) batting average and just two extra-base hits (two doubles) since June 1.
Soriano rebounded from Howard’s homer by striking out the next three batters he faced, including Ibanez, a left-handed threat, who is hitting .289 with 17 homers against right-handed pitchers this year. But by then, the damage had already been done.
“(Soriano) didn’t have any trouble against Ibanez and he’s a much better hitter than most lefties,” Cox said.