ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) The Detroit Tigers had seen enough from their shaky bullpen to know something had to be done. So the AL Central leaders acquired right-hander Joakim Soria.
”Obviously, I’m excited to have Joakim on the team,” manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday before the Tigers began a four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels. ”Anytime you can get help of his caliber, especially at the back end of the bullpen, I don’t think there would be a manager who wouldn’t be excited about it.”
Detroit dealt pitching prospects Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson to the Texas Rangers to get the 30-year-old Soria on Wednesday night.
”We gave up a lot, guys that we valued,” Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ general manager said. ”But it was a necessity.”
The Tigers have been working on improving their bullpen for weeks because closer Joe Nathan has been inconsistent and Joel Hanrahan apparently will not be able to pitch this year. Setup man Joba Chamberlain has been their only reliable reliever.
Soria was 1-3 with a 2.70 ERA, saving 17 games in 19 chances this year with the Rangers. He is 15-18 with a 2.51 and 177 saves in 199 chances over five years with the Kansas City Royals and two in Texas.
The Rangers signed Soria to an $8 million, two-year contract before last season as he was recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. His contract includes a $7 million club option for 2015 with a $500,000 buyout, making him even more attractive to the Tigers.
Soria sounded as if he will be happy with whatever role the Tigers give him. He is joining a franchise aiming for its first World Series championship since 1984 and leaving a last-place team that has had high hopes dashed by a slew of injuries.
”This is a good feeling,” the Mexican-born Soria said at his locker in Angel Stadium while accepting welcoming handshakes from several of his new teammates. ”I’m grateful to Texas, because they picked me up when I was hurt. So I wish all the best for them. But now I’m in a different family, it’s a different feeling. I’m willing to do whatever they want me to do and do whatever it takes to help this team win as many games as we can. My goal is to win the World Series.”
Ausmus said that Nathan, a six-time All-Star, will remain as the closer with Soria starting out as the seventh-inning reliever and Chamberlain staying in his current setup role.
”I’d probably leave Joba in the eighth inning because he’s pitched so well there,” Ausmus said. ”I talked to Joakim about pitching in the eighth if Joba wasn’t available, and in the ninth of Joe wasn’t available. So he was open to help any way he can. He’s pitched in all those roles before, so having someone with Joakim’s experience in the ninth if Joe can’t go is enormous.”
Ausmus is grateful for the chance to have two closers with All-Star credentials at his disposal, but insisted that Nathan is his guy right now – although he wouldn’t use him more than three days in a row.
”I never saw (Soria) as a threat as a teammate,” Nathan said. ”He’s another great arm that we brought over here. He’s a gamer. He’s a winner. He wants the baseball and he just loves to compete.”
Nathan has struggled at times this season, but not enough to give Ausmus a reason to take him out of the closer role.
”Even though I’ve done quite a bit in this game, one of those things I’ve also done is pull myself out of the closer role when I don’t feel as if I’m helping the club,” Nathan said. ”But right now is not one of those instances. I’m definitely throwing the ball with more consistency and getting a lot more swings and misses, which is always a good sign. But with that said, this is Brad’s decision.”
When the Tigers were considering making a move to add Soria, they asked Nathan and Ian Kinsler about him.
”Both of them were effusive in their praise of him as a player and a pitcher and as far as his makeup on the team,” Dombrowski recalled. ”One of the comments was, `Why don’t we have him yet?’ It was a real plus for us to know we can have another quality pitcher for next year.”
To help this season, Detroit signed Hanrahan to a $1 million, one-year deal in May – a year after he had elbow surgery – to pitch out of the bullpen. Dombrowski, though, said it is ”highly unlikely,” that Hanrahan will pitch this season.
”We’re not counting on him at all,” Dombrowski said.