Nationals go to closer by committee

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

WASHINGTON -- With three weeks to go in the regular season, the NL East-leading Washington Nationals are facing uncertainty at the closer's position.

Manager Matt Williams said Saturday he will use a closer-by-committee approach while struggling Rafael Soriano seeks to correct the flaws in his delivery.

Soriano blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning Friday night, allowing two homers in Washington's 9-8 loss to Philadelphia.

The right-hander has a 6.98 ERA since the All-Star break and has given up at least one run in seven of his past 12 outings.

"His fastball velocity is good, the command isn't quite where he wants it, certainly," Williams said. "The slider, the depth of his breaking pitch, is not there right now."

Williams will give Soriano some time off to get back on track.

"We have to figure out why he's missing location with the fastball, why his slider depth is not what he wants," Williams said. "For the next couple of days we'll let him ease his mind a little, work on it, do some video and get back to where he has been."

Soriano had an 0.97 ERA before the break, but that was long ago. As they seek to wrap up a trip to the playoffs, the Nationals can't afford to have Soriano giving away late leads.

"We'd love him to be back to form and be able to shut down the ninth inning for us," Williams said. "He's been that all year. But he also realizes there's been an issue with getting guys out recently. He's got to work on that. We're going to help him as much as we can."

Once Soriano works out the kinks, he won't immediately be thrust back into the closer's role.

"It's like a batter's slump. Just because you feel it in the cage, doesn't mean it's going to work in a game," said Williams, a former third baseman.

"We can pitch him in some situations when he's working on all of his mechanical things and have a little softer landing so he can have some confidence with it. There is no tried and true plan to any of it, other than we want him to be confident and feel good about all his pitches."

In the meantime, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Matt Thornton and Ross Detwiler are all candidates to work the ninth.

"It depends on what kind of matchup we have. We've got options," Williams said. "It depends on their team, it depends on who's used in other roles and how we want to do it during the course of a game.

"There's nobody in particular we're going to announce as the closer in the next few days. The good thing is we've got guys with experience doing it, and anybody can. We'll see how the game unfolds."