CINCINNATI — Rafael Soriano says he’s not thinking about the closer’s job right now.
Soriano missed spring training, switched agents and didn’t finalize his minor-league deal until June 9. Visa issues then delayed his arrival from the Dominican Republic. But there’s still almost 45 percent of the season left, and the Cubs think they have the chance to do something special. That’s what matters right now.
“I’m going to help these guys win,” Soriano said Monday afternoon at his locker inside Great American Ball Park’s visiting clubhouse.
With the Cubs searching for another starting pitcher and a veteran hitter, this might be the bullpen upgrade in the run-up to the July 31 trade deadline, a former All-Star closer who enjoyed his best individual season with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.
“He’s a guy who likes to win, and he’s done it before,” Soriano said. “He did it in the past with Tampa in ’08 (and they) made it to the World Series. It can happen here this year. We’ll put everything together and see what happens.”
Maddon met with Soriano before Monday night’s 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs manager doesn’t plan to ease in Soriano, who made seven scoreless appearances between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
“He’s ready to roll,” Maddon said. “He feels really good. He looks like he’s in really good shape. That was my first impression. I talked to him about the latter part of the game — be ready for anything in the latter part of the game.”
Maddon brought in Soriano with the Cubs trailing in a one-run game. Soriano walked Joey Votto to begin the eighth inning and gave up a ground-rule double to Jay Bruce, but he still managed to escape the jam.
“A little bit rusty,” Maddon said afterward. “But here’s the thing: He faced the toughest part of their batting order and battled through without giving up any runs because of his acumen. He knows what he’s doing out there. He never gave in to (Marlon) Byrd.
“He just kept pitching and making pitches. I think he hit 92 (mph and) there’s more in (there) than that, from what I saw.”
Soriano set up for Mariano Rivera in 2011 and notched 42 saves with the New York Yankees the next season, taking over after the legendary closer tore the ACL in his right knee.
That led to a two-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals, where Soriano saved 75 games for teams that won 182 games combined and a division title during that time.
Scott Boras engineered that deal, but the super-agent lost the game of chicken last winter. Soriano signed on midseason with Octagon Baseball and will earn around $1.8 million in base salary the rest of this year.
“Sometimes, this game can be confusing,” Soriano said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve been together with my family, working and waiting for the (right) time.
“We had a couple teams. I talked to my ex-lawyer and nothing happened, so I’ve been waiting. I’ve been working and trying to do my thing in the Dominican.
“We’ll try to put everything together that we got here and see what happens in the second half.”
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Maddon likes to get creative with the bullpen, leaning on Jason Motte in the ninth inning (without officially anointing him as the closer) and trusting Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop in high-leverage situations.
Soriano is 35 years old, and the Cubs will find out how much he has left in the tank. He put up a 0.97 ERA and 22 saves in the first half of last season before losing the closer’s job in Washington and struggling after the All-Star break (6.48 ERA).
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Soriano said. “That’s last year. I forgot everything that happened last year. My focus is on this year, and the last two-and-a-half months left. (Let’s) see what I can do with (this) team.”