DETROIT — When the Detroit Tigers became serious about acquiring Joakim Soria this month, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said he had manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones discuss the possibility with closer Joe Nathan and All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler.
They had been teammates with Soria the last two seasons as Texas Rangers.
"They explained (Soria’s) possible role and asked how his makeup (would fit in)," Dombrowski said. "Both were effusive in their praise. One of them said, ‘Why don’t we have him yet?’"
When asked if that comment came from Nathan, Dombrowski wouldn’t say. But it was clear that Nathan was on board with adding his former setup man with the Rangers — even if it meant the Tigers had a closer waiting in the wings should Nathan have a relapse in unpredictability.
Nathan, 39, has been good in six of seven outings in July — holding opponents scoreless on six hits in six games. But he gave up three runs in the ninth inning to take the loss against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday.
With former All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan requiring another "medical opinion" in the days ahead and Dombrowski deeming it "highly unlikely" that he will pitch for Detroit this season, Dombrowski escalated discussions with the Rangers about Soria. Dombrowski said he’d been discussing Soria with Texas general manager Jon Daniels since late June.
"We put special focus on guys who can help us in the late innings," Dombrowski said.
And on Wednesday night, Dombrowski pulled the trigger. He sent two right-handed pitching prospects (reliever Corey Knebel and starter Jake Thompson) to Texas for Soria.
The Tigers are trying to win a World Series and have been stung in the playoffs by inadequate late-inning relief performances in recent years. So, giving up two high draft picks made sense. The future is now for Detroit.
Dombrowski wouldn’t be pinned down on the formula for using Soria — who is 17 for 19 in save opportunities with a 2.79 ERA and 1.01 WHIP this season — and deferred that question to Ausmus. But he did say, "It’s more important to have somebody who can pitch late in the game in the seventh, eighth and ninth."
He added that eighth-inning reliever Joba Chamberlain (2.40 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) has "done a great job for us" and said of Nathan: "Joe’s been inconsistent out there. But lately he has thrown better with the exception of one game."
You can read between the lines and see that Nathan will remain the closer…for now. He must be dependable or Soria is waiting in the wings.
What Soria will immediately provide is a solution to the situation that was central to Detroit’s 5-4 loss to the Diamondbacks in Arizona on Tuesday night. Chamberlain and Nathan were unavailable to pitch because of recent heavy use, and Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol let the game get away in the eighth inning.
Now, Soria will be there to pitch the eighth or ninth in such predicaments. The big right-hander brings 177 career saves to Detroit and had a career-high 43 saves in 2010.
Soria, 30, appears fully recovered from Tommy John surgery 27 months ago. His strikeouts per nine innings (11.3) and WHIP (0.87) are excellent along with his control (four walks in 33 1/3 innings).
He’s also very able to fill the void lefties Coke and Krol have left with their ineffectiveness. Soria’s held left-handed hitters to a .205 batting average and righties to .212 over his career. Though, lefties are hitting .259 off him this season with righties coming in at an anemic .089.
"His ability to get left-handers and right-handers out is extremely important," Dombrowski said. "And it’s a plus four us to know we can have Joakim next year."
Detroit can either pay him $7 million to pitch in 2015 or buy out his contract for $500,000.
Left-handed starter Drew Smyly very likely will return to the bullpen for the playoffs, and the Tigers could have their best post-season bullpen group in a long time. Left-handed rookie Blaine Hardy (2.20 ERA and 1.29 WHIP) also might be on the verge of pitching in more important situations after looking solid in 15 appearances.
There’s reason to believe Dombrowski has added the last important piece of the puzzle with Soria.
Both were effusive in their praise. One of them said, ‘Why don’t we have him yet?’
When asked about possibly obtaining a left-handed hitter or veteran infielder before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, Dombrowski said, "I don’t know if either of those is a priority at this time."
He added that left-handed hitting corner outfielder Andy Dirks (back) should return after his recent setback on a rehabilitation assignment. "I think he’ll get through this and help us," Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski spoke with reporters on a teleconference from Erie, Pa., where he watched right fielder Steven Moya hit his 25th homer Wednesday night for the SeaWolves.
"I saw him hit a ball yesterday that would’ve been on the Pepsi Porch (at Comerica Park)," Dombrowski said.
While he gave up two quality pitching prospects to get Soria, he did not give up the most impressive prospect in his organization. Soria will join the Tigers tonight in Anaheim and be available to face the Los Angeles Angels.