Ausmus opens door a little for Soria in eighth, ninth
The Tigers won Saturday with help two September call-ups — Hernan Perez for spotting that Salvador Perez didn’t touch third base on his way to scoring a would-be go-ahead run, then Tyler Collins for his pinch-hit RBI single. Their win ended with 39-year-old Joe Nathan facing 42-year-old Raul Ibanez with the game on the line.
It also ended with the argument that the Tigers’ best relief pitcher did not pitch. At this point, however, Joakim Soria appears to be a reliever whose work is contingent on the rest of Detroit’s bullpen.
“Generally speaking, I would go for Joba [Chamberlain] and then Joe, assuming everyone is rested,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But if I don’t like the way somebody’s throwing or pitching, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to go to Soria. All three of those guys are proven back-end-of-the-bullpen pitchers.”
That’s a little bit of a shift from his previous situation, but not a full-time role. The question, as this AL Central race heads into its final week, is whether the hesitation will lessen.
In Saturday’s case, Ausmus said, “Soria was almost in the game a number of times.”
Soria warmed up in both the eighth and ninth innings once Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan encountered baserunners. Chamberlain gave up an Eric Hosmer single to whittle a 3-1 lead to 3-2 and put the potential tying run on base, but Chamberlain retired Omar Infante from there.
At that point, Soria and Phil Coke — who also began warming with left-handed hitting Mike Moustakas on deck — sat down, and Nathan got up.
Ausmus said that Soria was “not necessarily” going to be held unless the game was tied there.
Once Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar hit back-to-back one-out singles in the ninth, Soria began warming up again. He kept warming until Nathan closed out with back-to-back groundouts from Nori Aoki and Ibanez.
In similar situations this season, Ausmus has had relievers warming in the ninth in case Nathan gave up the lead. When asked after Saturday’s game if the decision to warm up Soria was in case the game was tied, Ausmus said, “That was if I wanted him in the game.”
Ausmus said Nathan looked good until the back-to-back singles. Of course, he only faced one batter before that, getting Moustakas to fly out to left leading off the ninth before putting Dyson in an 0-2 count.
After the singles, Nathan said, “Right there you have to keep making pitches, tell yourself you’ve still got your stuff, you’ve still got things working out, and keep on making quality pitches and hopefully things work out.”
Aoki, who went hitless Saturday after going 13-for-16 over his previous four games, battled Nathan for seven pitches before grounding out to second. Ibanez, 1-for-11 with four strikeouts but a home run last year off Nathan, grounded out to first on a 1-0 pitch.
With that, Nathan had his 33rd save, but also his fourth multi-hit outing in his last five appearances. He has finished off the save in four of those, ending each with the potential tying run either on at the plate or on base.
Asked how his nerves were as Saturday’s ninth inning played, Ausmus said, “Icy.”
He was half-kidding.
“No, I mean, you’re constantly thinking of things,” he said. “You’d love for your closer to get three straight outs on three straight pitches. There’s very few Mariano Riveras that have ever stepped on the pitching mound. I mean, the nature of a closer is you’re in danger when you take the ball. The game is already on the line. He doesn’t come in in a 10-1 game.”
The hits, meanwhile, he prefers to the walks. Saturday was Nathan’s first inning in his last four appearance without a walk.
“Sometimes he creates his own baserunners, yeah, and obviously you can avoid that,” Ausmus said. “Really, they’re going to get hits once in a while. That happens. The one thing you want to avoid is the walks. You don’t want to give them free bases.”
If the free passes pick up, Soria would presumably find himself picking up the ball in the ninth more often.