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Soriano shines in debut with Nationals

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VIERA, Fla. (AP) - The Washington Nationals finally got a look at their new closer on Tuesday.

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They liked what they saw.

Rafael Soriano, who signed a two-year, $28 million contract with Washington in January, gave up a hit in a scoreless inning in his spring training debut during a 7-1 victory over the Houston Astros.

``He was getting his work in, but he made some good pitches,'' Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said. ``(He threw) a 3-2 breaking ball (to Houston's Robbie Grossman) for a strikeout to end the inning. He looked good.''

Soriano, who arrived late to camp because of visa issues, is scheduled to make eight appearances this spring, including one set of back-to-back outings.

``He's a character to say the least,'' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ``He was a little frustrated that we had all those (scoring) rallies. He was ready to go. He said he was down there throwing some knuckleballs to kill some time.''

Once on the mound, Soriano's day lasted 12 pitches, in he seventh inning. He got Houston's Justin Maxwell out on a long fly to center field, then gave up a single to J.D. Martinez. After Suzuki threw out pinch-runner Brandon Barnes trying to steal second, he struck out Grossman to end the inning.

The right-hander is essentially on his own throwing program this spring, but that's just fine with Johnson.

``He knows exactly what he wants to do to get ready for the season,'' the manager said. ``He's fine.''

Houston manager Bo Porter said the Astros didn't play the cleanest game with three errors, but raved about starting pitcher Lucas Harrell. The right-hander pitched four innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out four.

``Lucas Harrell did a great job,'' Porter said. ``Four strong innings, and even when he got in trouble, he was able to make pitches and get out of it. He had great pace. He was down in the zone. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.''

Second baseman Jose Altuve had two of the Astros' four hits and also drove in a run.

Porter, who spent the previous two seasons as the Nationals third base coach was managing his first game against his former club. He got an enthusiastic hug from Washington principal owner Mark Lerner and was also greeted by Johnson and players like Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche.

Johnson told reporters Porter is the ``perfect man for the job'' in Houston because he is fundamentally sound and has a great eye for talent.

Porter, meanwhile, was happy to see some of his old friends.

``It's good to be back, good to see a lot of these guys,'' he said. ``They've got a good thing going on. It's a good ballclub. They've got a chance to do something special.''

Washington broke the game open Tuesday with a five-run sixth inning.

Second baseman Danny Espinosa had two hits and two RBIs. Third baseman Chad Tracy also drove in two runs.

Nationals starter Dan Haren threw mostly fastballs and cutters for the second straight outing. He retired six consecutive batters before running into trouble in the third when he gave up a run on two hits and a walk.

``In spring training, if you do good, you feel great (and) if you do bad, you're just working on stuff,'' Haren said. ``. I was just working on things in the third inning.''

NOTES: Zimmerman threw across the diamond for the first time this spring prior to Tuesday's game. ``Everything went good,'' said Zimmerman, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. ``I've got about another week of that to build the strength up and kind of go from there. It's still a little weak, but there's no pain. It's just a matter of going through the throwing program and getting stronger.'' . The Nationals optioned LHP Matt Purke to Double-A Hagerstown. . RHP Henry Rodriguez threw batting practice and is expected to pitch in a game soon, though he will likely only face one batter in his first outing . RHP Tyler Clippard has been working on his curveball this spring and threw a number of them Tuesday in his second spring outing . Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but as the stadium's public address announcer was introducing the Astros' lineup, the song, ``Who Are You'' by ``The Who'' was playing over the loudspeakers . Play was stopped momentarily in the bottom of the second inning when a large, green umbrella was blown from the Nationals bullpen into right field and had to be retrieved .. The Astros have a day off, but RHP Bud Norris will throw 60-65 pitches in a simulated game at the team's minor league complex. It is Norris' regular day to pitch and Porter said it was too early in spring to be skipping starts. . RHP Hector Ambriz made his spring debut and allowed one run on two hits in one inning. Ambriz had been recovering from a sprained left ankle. Ambriz was hit in that same ankle on a ball hit by Suzuki, but stayed in the game and reported no problems.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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