Breaking down the Soria deal

The Tigers are waiting until a Thursday morning conference call to talk in depth about their big move to land Joakim Soria from the Rangers. For now, however, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

1. Soria will set up for Joe Nathan, at least for now

Dave Dombrowski confirmed this much Wednesday evening. That’s believed to have been the plan on all the trade discussions the Tigers held on bullpen help this month. While Soria set up for Nathan with good success for 26 appearances last year, Nathan hasn’t had any role but closer over the last 10 years. So for now, if he’s going to have a role, it’s going to be the ninth.

If Soria eventually closes, it’ll leave the Tigers needing another arm for the seventh or eighth, because their current bullpen doesn’t have enough depth to cover the gap. The advantage of Soria setting up, if Nathan can hold down the ninth, is that it allows Chamberlain to enter in the seventh, an inning in which the Tigers’ numbers are almost as ugly as the ninth.

2. Two solid pitching prospects is the going rate for quality late-inning relievers this summer

Reports from before the All-Star break had the Rangers seeking 2-3 prospects for Soria, and it’s believed the Rangers’ initial asking price was steeper when the Tigers first inquired about Soria. But much like the two-year, $20 million deal Joe Nathan got last winter, the Tigers had to adjust to the market. The Rangers acquired a Triple-A relief prospect from KC for middle reliever Jason Frasor, and the Padres got a decent haul from the Angels for Huston Street.

No question, it shortens the prospect ranks for the Tigers going forward. Corey Knebel had the potential to become a late-inning arm in Detroit as soon as next year, and a cost-controlled reliever at that, while Jake Thompson had the makings of a mid-rotation starter. However, the Tigers have a club option on Soria for next season (and a reasonable one at $7 million), and they could also get Bruce Rondon back from Tommy John surgery next spring.

Thompson’s departure becomes bigger if the Tigers lose both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to free agency. If they re-sign one, Robbie Ray likely fills the other slot. Beyond that, Drew VerHagen also has the opportunity to step up. With Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez both signed long-term, and Drew Smyly not up for free agency until after the 2018 season, the Tigers have enough candidates to fill potential holes, even with Thompson no longer in the picture.

3. Are the Tigers done adding relievers?

That might depend on what the asking price is. They have the prospect depth to put together another package, but that’s where the deals begin to hurt the near future, rather than the distant one. While the idea of having Joaquin Benoit and Soria sounds appetizing, it would leave the Tigers on the hook for $26.5 million in relievers next season (Benoit’s $8 million salary for 2015 is guaranteed, with an $8 million option or $1.5 million buyout for 2016). Chad Qualls has a more reason $3 million salary for next year, but has said he wants to remain in Houston. Koji Uehara is up for free agency.

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers at Diamondbacks

Interesting move by Brad Ausmus, who moves Rajai Davis up to second in the order and slots everyone else down. That means Miguel Cabrera bats cleanup in a regular-season game for the fourth time this season, all in Interleague Play. Ausmus also plays the matchup with a day game after a night game and goes with Don Kelly, 4-for-7 with a home run off Trevor Cahill, in right field.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Cahill)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (0-for-6, 3 K’s)
  2. Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-3, K)
  3. Ian Kinsler, 2B (7-for-31, double, 4 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2-for-11, 4 walks, 2 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, 1B (3-for-9, double, walk, K)
  6. Don Kelly, RF (4-for-7, HR, walk)
  7. Alex Avila, C (3-for-11, 3 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Anibal Sanchez, P

DIAMONDBACKS (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. David Peralta, CF
  2. Aaron Hill, 2B (0-for-2, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B (0-for-2, walk)
  4. Miguel Montero, C (3-for-14, double, HR, 2 K’s)
  5. Mark Trumbo, LF (3-for-9, K)
  6. Gerardo Parra, RF (5-for-11, double, 2 K’s)
  7. Martin Prado, 3B (13-for-31, HR, walk)
  8. Didi Gregorius, SS
  9. Trevor Cahill, P

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers at Diamondbacks

Miguel Cabrera is back on the hot corner, and Victor Martinez (who had a very nice game at first base Monday night) is back on the right side of the infield. The two real changes are the return of J.D. Martinez to the lineup in left field, pushing Rajai Davis to the bench, and Alex Avila back behind the plate with rookie right-hander Chase Anderson (whom none of the Tigers have faced) on the mound for Arizona. With those two moves, Eugenio Suarez, who batted sixth in Monday’s lineup, is batting eighth tonight.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Torii Hunter, RF
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Eugenio Suarez, SS
  9. Rick Porcello, P

DIAMONDBACKS (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. David Peralta, CF
  2. Aaron Hill, 2B (2-for-11, HR)
  3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
  4. Miguel Montero, C (2-for-3, HR)
  5. Mark Trumbo, LF (4-for-13, 2 K’s)
  6. Gerardo Parra, RF (0-for-2)
  7. Martin Prado, 3B
  8. Didi Gregorius, SS
  9. Chase Anderson, P

Drew VerHagen placed on Triple-A DL with back strain

Drew VerHagen has drawn attention as a potential piece in any potential Tigers trade for relief help, having more than held his own as a sinkerballer at Triple-A Toledo before delivering a decent spot start in Detroit last Saturday with five innings of three-run ball. That could well end up being his final outing before the July 31 outing. The right-hander has been placed on the disabled list with what is being called a lower back strain.

The injury was reported after VerHagen returned to Toledo, having been called up and sent down last Saturday under the 26th man rule that allows for an extra player during a doubleheader. Thus, VerHagen was placed on the 7-day disabled list at the Triple-A level, rather than the 15-day DL in the big leagues. That means he’ll at least be eligible to return from the DL before the July 31 trade deadline. Whether he does depends on his back.

It isn’t expected to be a major injury. Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila said VerHagen reported concerns about his back after returning to Toledo. He’ll visit a doctor as a precaution, Avila said, but it doesn’t appear to be a serious concern.

Though just a few teams had scouts on hand for VerHagen’s start Saturday, the Tigers are getting a good amount of interest on starting pitching in their farm system. Beyond VerHagen, multiple teams are expected to have scouts at Double-A Erie to watch Jake Thompson, Detroit’s top pick in 2012 and now arguably their top pitching prospect after Robbie Ray, start Wednesday afternoon.

Monday’s lineups: Tigers at Diamondbacks

Miguel Cabrera makes his third start at third base this season, and his first since April 11. That opens up first base for Victor Martinez, getting him into the lineup without the DH slot and without having to put him behind the plate. We’ll see if this happens again during this three-game series, because Martinez is not going to catch.

The big surprise is in the outfield, where J.D. Martinez gets the night off. Rajai Davis and Torii Hunter start in the corners, leaving Torii Hunter to bat fifth and Eugenio Suarez sixth (!!!). Bryan Holaday again starts against the left-hander.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B
  5. Torii Hunter, RF
  6. Eugenio Suarez, SS
  7. Bryan Holaday, C
  8. Rajai Davis, LF
  9. Justin Verlander, P

DIAMONDBACKS (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. David Peralta, CF
  2. Aaron Hill, 2B (4-for-13, 2 doubles, 2 K’s)
  3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
  4. Miguel Montero, C (0-for-3, K)
  5. Mark Trumbo, LF (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  6. Gerardo Parra, RF (2-for-3, 2 doubles, K)
  7. Martin Prado, 3B (2-for-3, double)
  8. Didi Gregorius, SS
  9. Vidal Nuno, P

Nathan: I understand their frustration

Hours after Joe Nathan’s three-run ninth inning Saturday night, he had a clean ninth inning with a four-run lead Sunday afternoon. His postgame interview with reporters seemingly lasted longer than his inning Sunday.

He didn’t want to talk about Saturday’s loss, though he referenced what went wrong to get it out of the way. 

He understands fan frustration, he says, though he struggles to understand the emotional, game-to-game roller-coaster that goes with it. He’s trying to do his part to even it out, hoping fans will do the same on their end.

“I think the tough part for that is: When things go bad, they’re all over you. When things go well, they cheer,” he said. “Do we always want the fans supporting us? Yes, and I think they do here. And I think they’re so into it and want to win so bad. But as bad as they want to win, we want to win 100 percent more than they do. I understand their frustration.

“All I can do is say I’m busting my butt to get better every day and I’m grinding away every day and I’m in the gym every day. When things don’t go as well, I go out and beat my legs up running around the field so I’m stronger for the next day.”

He is not quite as preoccupied by mechanics at this point. He continues to work off of the lower arm angle he put into practice last month, but it’s not a cure-all. It’s a route to get where he wants with his pitches.

“I know my stuff’s better,” he said. “For me now, it’s a matter of getting more and more comfortable. Working ahead is always key. When I’m out there and I’m throwing strike one, it seems to be results-wise and putting hitters into defensive modes is much better when I’m getting strikes. But that’s the same with every pitcher. For me, I think the mechanical thing was more getting myself confidence. I’ve really noticed a difference with the slider especially. Earlier in the year, I was fighting to get it down in the zone and velocity-wise, it was more 84-85. Now it’s been easier to get it down in the zone and I’m noticing 87-88-89 at times. …

“It’s hard to work on stuff in the game regardless. It’s extremely hard when you have a week of downtime. As much as you need the four days, the thing you’re worried about the most is getting too much time off. I’m not doing anything major. It’s been easier for me, and I think that’s why, even if I do go out there and have a bad game like yesterday, you can’t always pay attention to results. You’ve just got to pay attention to how your stuff’s coming out and the swings you’re getting from hitters. I know I’m getting a lot more swings and misses in the last 10 or 15 outings since I made that adjustment.”

He’s definitely getting more of those than he was early in the year. Even during Saturday’s debacle, two of his three outs came on strikeouts. He had one strikeout and two swings and misses out of nine pitches Sunday, both to Saturday night Indians hero Chris Dickerson.

One was off the slider, the other off a 91 mph fastball.

“I feel like my stuff is there a lot of times,” he said. “Is it a work in progress? I hope not. I hope it clicks and like today, everything goes smooth from here on out. But it’s baseball. That won’t happen. I am still that same guy and hopefully it works out that we get to the playoffs and I’m pitching my best then.”

Every indication so far has been that the Tigers will give him the chance to close if they get there. They have not been looking for a pure closer. 

“I’m way too old to worry about that stuff,” Nathan said. “I’ve done too much in this game, too much in my career. I think it’d be unfair to myself to beat myself up over that kind of stuff after all the things I’ve been through in my career. That’s part of the game, and I know stuff’s going to be talked about, but that’s not for me to worry about.”

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Indians

CoPa 001

Victor Martinez is feeling healthy enough to handle first base in the series finale, a good test for him ahead of the upcoming Interleague series at Arizona. If Martinez can handle first base without much risk to his back, then don’t be surprised if Miguel Cabrera makes a start at third base, according to manager Brad Ausmus. Andrew Romine, meanwhile, gets a start at shortstop.

On the Cleveland side, the Indians threw some extra right-handed hitters against Drew Smyly given the splits, but they can only go so far with that. Several left-handed hitters remain to face a pitcher that has allowed a .315 average and .909 OPS against right-handed batters, compared with .157/.436 from lefties. Ryan Raburn is batting fifth, though, so there’s that.

TIGERS (career numbers off Josh Tomlin)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-14, 2 doubles, triple, HR, 2 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-6, 2 doubles, walk)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (4-for-7, double, HR, 3 walks)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (0-for-7, 3 walks, K)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (1-for-3, double, walk, K)
  6. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-8, double, 2 walks, K)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (2-for-5, 2 doubles, 2 K’s)
  8. Alex Avila, C (2-for-10, 2 HR, 4 K’s)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-2, K)

P: Drew Smyly

INDIANS (career numbers off Drew Smyly)

  1. Jason Kipnis, 2B (0-for-10, 6 K’s)
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (4-for-10, triple, 2 K’s)
  3. Michael Brantley, CF (5-for-10, 2 doubles, triple, 2 walks)
  4. Carlos Santana, 1B (3-for-10, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
  5. Ryan Raburn, LF (1-for-4, 3 walks)
  6. Nick Swisher, DH (3-for-9, HR, walk, K)
  7. Yan Gomes, C (2-for-5, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  8. David Murphy, RF (0-for-4)
  9. Mike Aviles, 3B (1-for-9, double, 2 K’s)

P: Josh Tomlin

Ausmus: Ankle prevented Joba from pitching ninth

The price of relief pitching likely just went up on the trade market. Whether the level of disorder in the Tigers bullpen did is another matter.

While Joe Nathan remains the Tigers closer, he was not necessarily the automatic choice to pitch the ninth inning. Brad Ausmus said after Nathan’s three-run ninth that he wanted to keep Joba Chamberlain in the game for the ninth inning (he used just six pitches in the eighth) until his ankle became an inning.

“We were going to send him back out there,” Ausmus said. “Ankle was bothering him. I don’t expect it to be an issue tomorrow. We were considering that.”

It’s an either-or situation with a tie game in the ninth inning, especially since neither had pitched since last weekend. With no save situation, there’s no reason to save the closer. If the setup man is the better pitcher, though, there’s nothing requiring the closer, either.

Whether the lack of work left Nathan rusty, the results weren’t pretty.

“I don’t know if it was the layoff or what,” Ausmus said. “He seemed to have trouble with his command a little bit. Fastball kept riding. Two-seamer kept riding quite a bit away from lefties and into righties.”

Said catcher Alex Avila: “His sinker was really moving a lot, probably a lot more than normal, and he was having a tough time commanding it. That’s been a big pitch for him lately. It’s been working really well. He hasn’t pitched in a while, and today you could just tell he didn’t have a real good feel for it.”

As for Chamberlain closing, Ausmus said, “I haven’t considered that at this point. … There’s a possibility that I could reach the point sometime. I’m not near that point. I’ll let you know when I am.”

Whether Nathan was closing would not have had an impact on Saturday night’s loss. Whether Nathan’s struggles has an impact on the Tigers’ bullpen search remains to be seen.

Saturday (Game 2): Tigers vs. Indians

Victor Martinez is playing the second game as well, Brad Ausmus decided. He’s the DH, while J.D. Martinez shifts over to left field and Torii Hunter starts in right. Don Kelly spells Nick Castellanos at third.

TIGERS (career numbers off Zach McAllister)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (7-for-14, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-7, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-17, double, walk, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (8-for-13, 3 doubles, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (2-for-3, HR, walk, K)
  6. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-13, 2 K’s)
  7. Don Kelly, 3B (2-for-5, 3 walks, K)
  8. Alex Avila, C (1-for-9, walk, 5 K’s)
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Max Scherzer 

INDIANS (career numbers vs. Scherzer)

  1. Jason Kipnis, 2B (5-for-27, double, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  2. Mike Aviles, SS (6-for-22, 2 doubles, 4 K’s)
  3. Michael Brantley, CF (12-for-38, 6 doubles, triple, HR, 3 walks, K)
  4. Carlos Santana, DH (3-for-34, double, 6 walks, 6 K’s)
  5. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (5-for-23, double, HR, 3 K’s)
  6. Nick Swisher, 1B (9-for-28, 3 doubles, triple, 5 walks, 12 K’s)
  7. David Murphy, RF (7-for-28, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  8. Roberto Perez, C
  9. Chris Dickerson, LF (0-for-9, 7 K’s)

P: Zach McAllister

Saturday (Game 1): Tigers vs. Indians

While the Tigers took advantage of the 26th man rule to bring up Drew VerHagen for his Major League debut (he’s starting Game 1), they made a traditional pitching move as well. Chad Smith was optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room for a fresh arm with Corey Knebel, who rejoins the Tigers bullpen after a month with the Mud Hens. The move gives the Tigers a fresh arm for the doubleheader, though Knebel had also established his solid pitching again in Toledo, allowing four runs on four hits over 14 1/3 innings since his demotion. He walked eight but struck out 16.

On the lineup front, Victor Martinez starts the opener, but there’s nothing determined yet whether he’ll start the nightcap. Brad Ausmus said he’ll wait until after Game 1 to check with Martinez and how he’s feeling before making that decision. Meanwhile, Bryan Holaday — who has caught Drew VerHagen more often than Alex Avila — gets the start behind the plate. Avila is 3-for-17 off Game 1 starter Corey Kluber.

Torii Hunter is the odd man out in the Tigers outfield for Game 1. J.D. Martinez starts in right field, while Rajai Davis starts in left.

On the Cleveland side, Ryan Raburn is starting against the right-handed VerHagen, perhaps trying to take advantage of the hot bat despite the matchups.

TIGERS (career numbers against Kluber)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-14, double, walk, 3 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-9, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (12-for-24, double, 3 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (8-for-17, 2 HR, 2 walks, K)
  5. J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-3, double)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (3-for-6, K)
  7. Eugenio Suarez, SS (1-for-3)
  8. Bryan Holaday, C (1-for-3)
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-3, double, K)

P: Drew VerHagen

INDIANS

  1. Jason Kipnis, 2B
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  3. Michael Brantley, CF
  4. Carlos Santana, 1B
  5. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
  6. Nick Swisher, DH
  7. Yan Gomes, C
  8. David Murphy, RF
  9. Ryan Raburn, LF

P: Corey Kluber

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