With­out fur­ther de­lay

Visa is­sues re­solved, the Na­tion­als’ Rafael So­ri­ano re­ports six days late.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JAMES WAG­NER wag­n­er­james@wash­post.com

Viera, Fla. — Rafael So­ri­ano slipped qui­etly into the club­house here at 8:48 a.m. on Satur­day, six days later than he hoped to ar­rive from his na­tive Do­mini­can Repub­lic. The Washington Na­tion­als’ splashy off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion made a bee­line to­ward his locker, dropped off his bag and be­gan chang­ing into his Na­tion­als gear for the first time. Eat­ing a spinach omelet for break­fast nearby, pitcher Gio Gon­za­lez stopped, of­fered a hug and con­grat­u­la­tions.

So­ri­ano, the right-handed closer held up by a visa de­lay, was fi­nally here. The man signed to help make the Na­tion­als a World Se­ries fa­vorite had ar­rived at Space Coast Sta­dium, pulled head­phones out of his bag, plugged them into his iPhone and played bachata mu­sic loud enough for ev­ery­one in his cor­ner of the locker room to hear.

Even­tu­ally, he took a few ques­tions.

“I’m so happy to be here,” he told re­porters hud­dled around him at his locker.

Af­ter the team warmed up Satur­day morn­ing on a field be­hind the spring train­ing com­plex, So­ri­ano jogged to­ward the pitch­ers to take part in drills, dressed in Na­tion­als’ red, white and blue from head to toe. Gen­eral Man­ager Mike Rizzo turned to­ward him and said, “Looks good on you.”

Ide­ally, So­ri­ano, 33, would have been here a week ago, two days be­fore pitch­ers and catch­ers were ex­pected to report to spring train­ing. He wanted the time to fa­mil­iar­ize him­self with the team that signed him to a two-year, $28 mil­lion deal last month. But the former New York Yan­kee was forced to wait in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic as the U.S. Con­sulate ver­i­fied in­for­ma­tion re­lated to his visa. “I was sur­prised,” he said.

While So­ri­ano waited at home in Boca Chica, he con­tin­ued his five-times-a-week rou­tine of train­ing and play­ing catch, his bags packed. His per­sonal as­sis­tant, who helps him with English, had been in Viera since Mon­day wait­ing for him to ar­rive.

On Fri­day morn­ing, So­ri­ano re­ceived word that he was cleared to travel. He ar­rived in Viera around 1 a.m. the next day. He played catch on Satur­day and will throw his first bullpen ses­sion Mon­day. The 10-year ma­jor league veteran has thrown only one bullpen ses­sion so far this win­ter, nor­mal for him as he likes to rest his arm in the off­sea­son.

So­ri­ano has the most ma­jor league ex­pe­ri­ence on the Na­tion­als and is the third-old­est player on the ac­tive ros­ter, seven months younger than Jayson Werth. He said this is the first time in his ca­reer that he has been the most se­nior mem­ber of a bullpen.

This is also only the sec­ond time in his ca­reer that he has ar­rived to camp as his team’s clear-cut closer — note­wor­thy for a re­liever with 132 ca­reer saves for four teams. The Na­tion­als are count­ing on So­ri­ano, an ad­mit­ted in­tro­vert, to be­come a leader in the bullpen and help the younger re­liev­ers.

“It’s one of the things I like to do,” So­ri­ano said. “If they need me to help and I see some­thing, if they’re do­ing some­thing wrong, I like to tell them, ‘Hey, do it this way.’ ”

So­ri­ano was once given the nick­name “El Si­len­cioso” (“the Silent One”) by team­mates be­cause he would of­ten re­treat to his cor­ner of the club­house to talk to his fam­ily by phone. Af­ter blown saves, he of­ten avoided re­porters. He turns to his fam­ily to help him cope af­ter rough out­ings.

His agent, Scott Bo­ras, how­ever, told So­ri­ano he needed to speak with me­dia mem­bers af­ter blown saves, es­pe­cially in New York, and he has. So­ri­ano in­sists that his quiet de­meanor is no per­sonal slight against his team­mates. While some like to talk, he doesn’t.

“I’m like that,” he said. “I don’t say much. De­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion and how the team is do­ing. Some­times you’ll see me quiet or lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. That’s the way I am. I’ve al­ways been like that.”

So­ri­ano ar­rived in Viera know­ing only one other per­son in the Na­tion­als’ club­house, re­liever Will Ohman, who was also on the 2008 Braves. (First base­man Adam LaRoche was also So­ri­ano’s team­mate on the 2009 Braves, but only for the fi­nal two months of the sea­son af­ter a trade and the two said they did not know each other then.)

“He gen­er­ally is the tall, silent type,” said Ohman, here on a mi­nor league deal with an in­vi­ta­tion to big league camp. “He does his work. He’s very con­tent to pre­pare him­self and go out and do his job. Not a tremen­dous amount of flair about it. That’s just the way he goes about it. He gets outs.”

Slowly, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound So­ri­ano said, he will get to know his other team­mates. Af­ter Gon­za­lez wel­comed him in the morn­ing, Rizzo ap­peared in the club­house and shook So­ri­ano’s hand. Pitch­ing coach Steve McCatty emerged from the hall­way and did the same. McCatty told him they would soon talk about his pitch­ing sched­ule and see how he felt.

Then, be­fore he walked away, McCatty asked So­ri­ano a ques­tion that made both men laugh: “How you feel? Your back sore from car­ry­ing all that money?”

Af­ter So­ri­ano had pulled on his red short-sleeve warmup jacket, he walked to­ward the op­po­site end of the club­house. He wore his hat back­ward loosely on his bald head, his glove on his left hand and bounced a base­ball on the ground, the bachata mu­sic he lis­tened to as he dressed still play­ing.


Rafael So­ri­ano works out with his Washington Na­tion­als team­mates for the first time Satur­day. “I’m so happy to be here,” he told re­porters.

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