Rangers' Soria dazzles in first appearance since 2011

Joakim Soria pitched in the MLB for the first time in nearly two years and he did it perfectly.

ARLINGTON, Texas – It was a typical outing for Joakim Soria on Sunday. Typical, except for the fact Soria had not pitched in a major league game in close to two years.

The Rangers reliever had not been on a major league mound since Sept. 11, 2011 when he made his return from Tommy John surgery with an 11-pitch sixth inning.

"It was a long journey, but it was worth it," Soria said. "Every single day that I spent in Arizona [doing rehabilitation work] it was worth it. Now that I'm here I just want to help this team win the championship."

Soria helped Sunday with an efficient inning to help the Rangers hold on to a one-run lead over the Astros. The Rangers would go on to win, 5-4, and Soria was presented the game ball by veteran closer Joe Nathan.

Like Nathan, Soria had been an All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals. However, Tommy John surgery – the second of his career – caused him to miss the entire 2012 season.

Soria signed a free agent contract in the off-season with the Rangers, who were hoping that Soria could reclaim his old form with a little patience and a lot of hard work.

That patience was rewarded, at least for one game, when Soria faced the 3-4-5 hitters in the Astros lineup. Seven of his 11 pitches were strikes, and all were fastballs in the 90-92 mph range.

"It's kind of the way you're going to see it," Soria said. "I've never been a power pitcher and that's what I stay the whole time, 90-92, and with good command. That's my pitch."

Soria got Carlos Corporan and Carlos Pena to ground out, then induced a fly ball from Mark Krauss to make for a quick inning.

Rangers manager Ron Washington said Soria told him not to "baby" him, but one inning was enough after a 22-month absence.

"I think it was very special for him," Washington said. "To go under the knife like he did and to rehab as long as he did, and to stay on target like he did, and be the professional that he was, I'm more than certain it was a special moment to get back on a major league mound and have the confidence that he can make his pitches and get the outs."

Soria admitted to being a little nervous in the bullpen as he warmed up. But in a moment that could have produced an array of emotions, the overriding feeling was excitement.

"I've been working really hard. It was no time, in my mind, to doubt myself or to get nervous. Like I said, everything I worked for is now here and I'm just going to enjoy it."

Washington said it looked like the old Soria to him, and that's the way Soria approached it.

"It's not like I haven't been in that situation; I was just taking it like my job," Soria said. "Why [do I] have to be nervous and put pressure on myself. Just go out there and have fun."

As grinding as a rehab from arm surgery can be, Soria said the hardest part was watching games and knowing he can't play in them. When he learned he would be activated Sunday, his long journey was finally over.

"It's an amazing feeling after all that time and the wait," Soria said. "It feels really good."

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire

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