'Prepared for any role,' Soriano finishes spring on high note

Patrick Sandoval has final tune-up before Opening Day

March 22nd, 2024

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Right-hander pitched so well against the split-squad White Sox on Friday that he might’ve earned himself a trip to the Minor Leagues to open the season.

It sounds contradictory, since Soriano would be a lock to be in the club’s bullpen after his breakout rookie season in relief, but the Angels are experimenting with moving him back into a starting pitching role. And with the Angels’ rotation already set, Soriano seems likely to be headed to Triple-A Salt Lake to remain stretched out and offer tantalizing starting pitching depth.

He was dominant in the Halos’ 2-0 win over the White Sox, as he threw six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and no walks on just 71 pitches in his third start (fourth appearance) in Cactus League play. Soriano, 25, offers a fastball that can reach 101 mph to go along with a pitch mix that includes an elite curveball, slider and changeup.

“That was outstanding and had to be the best outing in all of Spring Training,” Angels manager Ron Washington said. “Throwing just 71 pitches in six innings, you don’t see that very often. And with no walks. You just don’t see that. He was in command today.”

Washington, however, said no decision has been reached just yet on if Soriano will remain stretched out. But it does seem to be the case based on the way Soriano has responded to his role as a starting pitcher. Soriano said Friday he hadn’t been told where he’ll start the season or what role he’ll pitch in just yet but said he’s on board with whatever the Angels want him to do.

“I’m prepared for any role,” Soriano said through interpreter Manny Del Campo. “I don’t have any preference at the moment. But I’m ready to go.”

Soriano was previously a highly-rated prospect as a starting pitcher in the Minor Leagues but underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020 and the Angels lost him via the Rule 5 Draft prior to the 2021 season. The Pirates took him with the No. 1 pick, but he was returned to the Angels after the season after he underwent Tommy John surgery for a second time.

But Soriano bounced back and returned as a reliever in 2023, which included a successful first stint in the Majors. He posted a 3.64 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 42 innings and appeared to be a lock in this year’s bullpen. But with his prototypical starting pitcher build and four-pitch mix, the Angels felt it was within their best interest to see if he could make it as a starter, especially considering their lack of high-upside starting pitching depth.

“I like his size, I like his strength and I like his stuff,” Washington said. “It's just a matter of him just learning how to get through six to seven innings instead of two or three. That’s part of the growth. But he has the quality to do anything that we ask of him.”

The Angels have two spots open in their bullpen and still have right-hander and non-roster invitees and in camp. No. 5 prospect Ben Joyce was optioned on Friday, as he has elite stuff but is still learning to harness it -- he walked nine batters in 7 1/3 innings this spring.

Zuñiga seems likely to make the roster, as he's struck out 11 and hasn't walked a batter in eight innings. Strickland also has a strong case with 14 strikeouts and no walks in 10 innings but would need to be added to the 40-man roster. Pomeranz has struck out six and walked three in six innings and can opt out of his contract as an Article XX(B) free agent on a Minor League deal.

Sandoval’s final tune-up comes in Minor League game

Lefty was originally slated to face the White Sox on Friday but pitched six scoreless innings in a Minor League intrasquad instead to get ready for his Opening Day start in Baltimore on Thursday.

Sandoval didn’t allow much hard contact and was pleased with his final start of the spring. He finished with two consecutive strong outings to close out Spring Training.

“It went well,” Sandoval said. “Just things like my in-game adjustments and locating my fastball and getting my other pitches to work off it. Pretty much the whole camp, I just tried to re-establish my own fastball and throw it with more confidence, and I think this one was really positive for me.”