The Rays knew of Rafael Soriano's ability to close games when they acquired him from Atlanta in the offseason.
But what has impressed them about Soriano's spectacular start to this season — tying a club record with 16 consecutive saves — is how he has done it: in a composed, calculated and confident manner.
"He has a mean streak," manager Joe Maddon said. "The guy is all business when he pitches, and I feel very comfortable when he's out there, because I know everything is plotted or planned; he knows what he wants to do.
"Rafael really is very calculated. He's not just out there throwing by any means. He's a complete pitcher."
Considering the business-like way Soriano treats the ninth inning, it's little surprise he's taking his return to Atlanta today as another three-game series in June. Of course, Soriano said he's looking forward to seeing some former teammates, and the fans. But on the mound, "I'll go there and do my thing — and that's it."
Soriano, 30, spent three seasons with the Braves, picking up 27 saves in 31 chances last season, but after he surprised the team by accepting arbitration, they traded him in December to the Rays for right-hander Jesse Chavez. The Rays signed him to a one-year, $7.25 million deal.
"I was surprised when they traded me," Soriano said. "I said, 'All right,' because it's part of the American game, you can go wherever they want you to go."
In spring training, Soriano sat down with Maddon and explained what it would take for him to be successful, such as how many exhibition appearances he would need, his routine, etc. "And he's pretty much lived up to everything we talked about," Maddon said.
Said veteran reliever Dan Wheeler: "He's been better than advertised."
Soriano has converted 21 straight saves dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors. Since July 1, he has 37 saves, three shy of Mariano Rivera for most in the majors.
"To me, the last three outs are very important," Soriano said. "Everybody sometimes can be tight, like, 'What if something happens?' To me, I'm not like that. … Everybody says, 'You look the same.' What are you going to do? Nothing is going to change. All I've got to do is throw a good pitch and that's it."
Having Soriano to close has had a trickle-down effect on the bullpen, with relievers comfortably slotted into their roles, knowing when they'll come in.
"He's another one of our guys who needs to be in Anaheim (for the All-Star Game)," starter Matt Garza said. "He's stabilized the bullpen and done a great job with that. He's that guy, where in the ninth inning, you see him up and are like, 'We've got this.' It's a lot more comforting."
Soriano said it has helped that he has been really comfortable in the clubhouse, with several other Rays from the Dominican Republic helping him ease in. He has a great relationship with Maddon, who shares his postgame wine after many of his appearances.
And while Soriano is known to joke around in the clubhouse and cook his teammates some of his favorite dishes, his stone-faced glare returns when he gets on the mound.
"He's like the silent assassin," Garza said. "He doesn't need to talk. He doesn't need to showboat. He just goes out there and does his thing and at the end of the game, he high-fives, pounds his chest, and we all give hugs."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.