Is Rafael Soriano Finally Returning to Form for the New York Yankees?

Doug Rush@Doug_RushSenior Analyst ISeptember 8, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 04: Rafael Soriano #29 of the New York Yankees throws a pitch in the top of the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 4, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

When the Yankees signed Rafael Soriano to a three-year deal over the winter, they thought they were getting a closer who was going to solidify their bullpen in 2011.

Early on in the season, Soriano was anything but the pitcher who was an All-Star for the Tampa Bay Rays a season ago.

By April 30, Soriano was 1-1 with a 7.15 ERA in 11 innings pitched and 11 appearances—not exactly the start Yankees envisioned for the guy who had a 1.74 ERA for the entire 2010 season and someone they made the setup man for Mariano Rivera.

Soriano seemed like he was turning himself around in May, lowering his ERA from 7.15 all the way down to 5.40 with four more appearances.

Then, he hit a major road block.

Soriano hit the disabled list with an elbow injury and the Yankees weren't sure when he would return to the lineup. What made his injury worse were the injuries of Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano before the 2011 season even started, and Joba Chamberlain tearing ligaments in his arm, which required Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for the season as well.

With those four arms out of the Yankees bullpen, New York moved David Robertson into the setup role, a move that has worked out in the their favor, as he has a 1.23 ERA and was an American League All-Star in July.

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It wasn't until July 30, in a double-header against the Baltimore Orioles, that Soriano finally came off the disabled list and pitched for the first time since May 13.

Soriano pitched an inning, didn't allow a hit and struck out two in his return. It also lowered his ERA from 5.40 to 5.06. He got his ERA all the way down to 3.86, but did hit a few snags during his return, like when he got hit for three runs and three hits in a loss to the Oakland A's on August 24.

That put Soriano's ERA back to 5.01. For a night, some fans were worried if he could handle pitching in crucial games for the Yankees in the second half of the season.

Since taking the loss, Soriano got his ERA back down to 4.30 as of September 7.

In their latest game against the Orioles on September 7, Soriano pitched a scoreless inning in the ninth, walked a batter and struck out a batter to keep the game tied. He is currently 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA for the season with 23 strikeouts and 16 walks in 29.1 innings—not exactly the type of numbers that will make you jump out of your seat, especially when Soriano is making $10 million for a middle reliever.

But he did miss over two months of the season, so his numbers are on such a small scale. And now, his early struggles don't matter.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 30:  Rafael Soriano #29 of the New York Yankees is congratulated by teammate Francisco Cervelli #17 after defeating the Baltimore Orioles on July 30, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Yankees defeated the Or
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

What matters now is that Soriano is recovered from his elbow injury and is pitching back to the form that got him the big contract from the Yankees in the first place. With the Yankees sitting ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East by 2.5 games, they are going to need Soriano to step up his game for the potential of October baseball.

In separate games against the Red Sox on August 5, August 30 and September 1, all wins for the Yankees, Soriano pitched three scoreless innings and looked like the same All-Star reliever from a year ago.

Soriano, along with Robertson, will be building an important bridge to Rivera in playoff games and if Soriano is in fact back to form, it could shorten a lot of games for Yankees opponents. He didn't have the most impressive outing for the Rays in the playoffs against the Rangers: an ERA of nine in three appearances, allowing four hits, three runs and two home runs and only one strikeout.

The Yankees can't have a repeat performance like that from him if they want to have any success in the postseason.

When Soriano signed his contract with the Yankees back in the winter, the Yankees worked in two opt-out clauses, in case Soriano decided he wanted to be a closer again and flee elsewhere. Given the year he's had, there's no way Soriano would make nearly what he would in 2012 for the Yankees if he were to hit the open market again.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 02:  Rafael Soriano #29 of the New York Yankees throws to first base against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on September 2, 2011 in the Bronx Borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Maybe the incentive to re-establish himself as a dominant reliever and get another closer job in the future will push Soriano, something that can only benefit the Yankees bullpen next month.

You can also throw in the fact that both Marte and Feliciano were shut down in their rehab appearances; it only enhances Soriano's role for September and October.

Who would have thought it back in April and May, that Soriano would be being counted on to help the Yankees in September and October given how high his ERA was and how bad he was pitching?

Fast-forward to September and how things change drastically.

For Yankees Universe, they're hoping the change is for the better.

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