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Tag:Joakim Soria
Posted on: July 1, 2011 2:31 pm
 

Short Hops: All-Star Soria back on track (& more)

This isn't about Mariano Rivera. It's about the Royals' Joakim Soria. But as with so many other things regarding closers, it makes Old Man Rivera look even more sensational than he already is.

OK, here goes: If I were to ask you coming into this season whose save conversion rate since July 31, 2007, is second in the game to Rivera's, whom would you say?

Yes, the answer is Soria, a two-time All-Star whose 92.4 rate since that date is second among all major-league closers to Rivera's 92.9.

Now, here's just one more piece of evidence that Rivera is superhuman: In late May, Soria suddenly fell into a hole and blew five of his first 12 save opportunities. It got so bad that after he blew consecutive save opportunities in late May, he admirably went to manager Ned Yost and essentially removed himself from the role. Something that in all of these years Rivera has never had to do.

Yost handled the situation superbly: He gave Soria a few days off to clear out his mind, eased him back into non-save situations in which he could pitch two innings at a time (to work on his fastball command) and then plugged Soria back into the ninth in early June.

The results, again, have been spectacular: Soria has worked 12 shutout innings in his past 10 games and is six-for-six in save opportunities, while holding opponents to an .098 batting average (4 for 41).

"It was not a big change at all," Soria says. "It was just a mind-set, getting my confidence back. Mechanics-wise, there was nothing to change. I looked at video, and I'm not doing anything different."

Soria isn't a closer with overpowering stuff, nor does he have one lethal weapon like Rivera's cutter. Instead, he throws all of his pitches -- fastball, curve, slider and change. Because he depends on location, problems can arise if he goes four or five days between outings.

"He's a command-guy closer," Yost says. "Command guys rebound so much better from that than stuff guys do.

"I've never had stuff guys who have gone through this rebound -- Derrick Turnbow, Danny Kolb, even Eric Gagne."

Soria, 27, right now is reinforcing Yost's history.

"Bad things make you stronger," Soria says. "If you've always been good, maybe you don't realize what it takes to be good until you go bad."

As for Rivera, who mostly has been immune to slumps throughout his Hall of Fame career, Soria, like everyone else, just marvels.

"He's the best," Soria says. "He's done everything in his career, and I don't think he's ever struggled."

-- Soria and Rivera have met once, at the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium in 2008. But they did not exchange trade secrets. "We didn't talk about the game," Soria says. "We just talked about life."

-- Though they clearly could use reinforcements for a beat-up bullpen, and manager Charlie Manuel wants a right-handed bat (the Padres' Ryan Ludwick? The Twins' Michael Cuddyer?), the Phillies are telling teams that they they're tapped out financially. They're close to the luxury tax threshold and do not want to cross it. Of course, they were also telling rivals the same thing last winter before they shocked everyone by signing free agent pitcher Cliff Lee.

-- Emphasizing Philadelphia's need for a right-handed bat: The Phillies are hitting .196 in their past 13 games against lefty starters.

-- The Red Sox, too, say they do not want to push their luxury tax any higher than it already is, which suggests no pricey mid-season reinforcements. But recent history under general manager Theo Epstein also suggests the Red Sox get what they need and, right now, their internal discussions are centering on a hitter. They're not getting much out of right field, which led to the release of Mike Cameron this week.

-- Mariners officials are scheduled to talk via conference call next week to discuss final strategy leading into the July trade deadline. Though Seattle has done a nice job of staying competitive, the recent 3-7 tailspin could spur the M's to deal Erik Bedard. Though Bedard landed on the disabled list this week with a knee sprain, he could be a very good trade chip.

-- Thanks to Milwaukee's road woes, the Cardinals are back in a tie for first place in the NL Central entering the weekend. But one scout who has watched St. Louis recently remains unimpressed. "Colby Rasmus is so inconsistent," the scout says. "Sometimes it looks like he's not even there at the plate." Then there are the times when Rasmus looks like he is there, like when he homered Tuesday and Wednesday in Baltimore.

-- In St. Louis' defense, the Cards have been so beat up this year, but while Albert Pujols is out, at least third baseman David Freese has returned from the disabled list. "Daniel Descalso was playing third base when I saw St. Louis," the scout says. "And I'm thinking, 'These are the St. Louis Cardinals?'"

-- This is the Phillies' rotation we expected: Philadelphia starters compiled a 1.96 ERA in June. Which, according to STATS LLC makes the Phils the first team since July of 1992 to go a full month under 2.00. Both Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs did it back in July, '92.

-- Quietly, Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick is resurfacing and showing why he will be in demand on the July trade market. He's at 51 RBIs in 78 games after finishing April with a .198 batting average and a .294 on-base percentage. That followed his miserable debut in San Diego last summer when he hit .211 with six homers in 59 games after his acquisition from St. Louis. There have been differences between this year and last: A calf injury nagged at him last year, while this April he was hitting the ball hard, just right at people. "I played terrible last year," Ludwick says. "I wouldn't say I've been playing great this year, but I've been doing what I've been known to do and what they brought me over to do. Drive in runs. Last year, every time I came to the ballpark I was stressed out, wondering if I was going to be able to make contact."

-- Know what's funny? The cover of Florida's media guide is a collage of small photos of historical highlights in Marlins history. And right there front and center, albeit at the bottom, is a photo of Jack McKeon in uniform. No need for updating there. Well, except he's wearing No. 15, and this time around, he's No. 25.

-- Angels manger Mike Scioscia, by the way, is still marveling about McKeon's enthusiasm for managing at 80. Scioscia and the Angels saw McKeon in his 2011 debut a couple of weeks back.

Likes: All-Star voting results coming soon, with the game soon to follow. ... Derek Jeter nearly set to resume his chase for 3,000 hits. ... Kerry Wood off of the DL and back in the Cubs' bullpen. ... From rocky NFL labor talks to rocky NBA labor talks to ... baseball labor talks still quiet and positive. ... The smell of neighborhood grills over the Fourth of July weekend. ... Modern Family boxed set, season 1. I'm just catching up to a show I haven't watched. Very funny. ... My sister's frozen key lime pie. Delicious.

Dislikes: Missed Jason Isbell coming through my town last week because of work commitments. His latest disc with his band, the 400 Unit, Here We Rest, is outstanding.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Driving in to Darlington County
"Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July
"Driving in to Darlington County
"Looking for some work on the county line
"We drove down from New York City
"Where the girls are pretty but they just want to know your name
"Driving in to Darlington City
"Got a union connection with an uncle of Wayne's
"We drove eight hundred miles without seeing a cop
"We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing. ..."

-- Bruce Springsteen, Darlington County

Posted on: June 7, 2011 12:36 am
 

Royals re-insert Soria as closer

KANSAS CITY -- Exiled at his own suggestion after blowing five saves earlier this year, All-Star Joakim Soria is back as Kansas City's closer.

Manager Ned Yost told Soria after the right-hander pitched two scoreless innings and earned the win as the Royals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2, 11-inning victory over Toronto at Kauffman Stadium.

Aaron Crow, who did not have a save opportunity while serving as temporary closer, will move back into his set-up role.

"That sets our bullpen up nice," said Yost, who thinks Soria needed to make a "mental adjustment" more than anything.

"Get back on the attack, get out and over on his front foot," Yost said.

Among Soria's struggles this season: His 16 earned runs allowed are three more than his season totals from both 2009 and 2010, and the five blown saves are the most of any of his five seasons.

He approached Yost following his fifth blown save of the season -- and second in two days -- on May 30.

"He's done it with a lot of class, a lot of dignity," Yost said of his two-time All-Star. "He stepped back when he felt he was hurting the team, and he stepped back when he had to make adjustments before coming back to help us."

Yost noted it was quick, "eight or nine days", but now he's again seeing "vintage Soria."

"He had two four-out innings where we made errors on ground balls when we should have made the out, and he's been fantastic," Yost said.

Entering this season, since becoming Kansas City's closer following the trade of Octavio Dotel on July 31, 2007, Soria had converted 122 of 132 save opportunities. His 92.4 conversion percentage during that time was second in the majors to the Yankees' Mariano Rivera (92.9 percent).

"I always felt good, but I'm in a better spot right now," Soria said. "I feel better in my command. I'll always be challenged in this game. I like challenges, and I put a challenge to myself to come back as quick as I can."

 

Posted on: April 22, 2010 11:59 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2010 6:06 pm
 

Short Hops: Bullpens reaching critical mass

Short hops, quick pops and backhand stops:

 Where legendary manager/raconteur Casey Stengel once groused, "Can't anybody here play this game?", Dave Trembley (Baltimore), A.J. Hinch (Arizona), Trey Hillman (Kansas City), Ron Washington (Texas), Lou Piniella (Cubs) and Fredi Gonzalez (Florida) are among the skippers anguishing through today's modern translation: "Can't anybody here pitch in the late innings?"

Nearly three weeks in, and bullpens in each of those places range from blown up to still-smoldering. While the issues and problems are disparate, there are a couple of things in play here.

One, as Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher suggests, some relievers are still attempting to settle into the regular season's erratic workload after pitching regularly scheduled stints throughout spring training.

Two, the spectacular number of blown saves in Baltimore (two conversions in six opportunities), Texas (two in five) and Kansas City (four in nine) add grist to the argument against rigidly locking your closer into the ninth innings. Sometimes, the eighth inning is the game-changer. Sometimes it's the seventh.

"The way the bullpen sets up today, you've got a closer for the seventh inning, a closer for the eighth inning and a closer for the ninth inning," Butcher says.

So, given the nature of specialty bullpens, in an era when there are no Goose Gossage-style closers who can get seven or eight outs, maybe what's needed is less managing-by-the-book and more imagination. Maybe if the Royals, for example, summoned Joakim Soria sooner rather than later, they wouldn't have suffered four of their first five losses in games in which they led in the seventh inning.

In Texas, Frank Francisco has been removed as closer in favor of Neftali Feliz. In Baltimore, Mike Gonzalez, who blew save opportunities on both opening day and in the Orioles' home opener, went to the disabled list with a shoulder strain (and in his place, Jim Johnson has blown two of three save opportunities).

The 2-14 Orioles have lost five games in which they've led in the eighth inning or later. Texas has lost four such games. Kansas City starters already have been cost five wins because of blown saves (including two each for Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister), while Arizona, Milwaukee, Florida and Cubs' starters have lost four victories to blown saves.

The Diamondbacks suffered back-to-back walk-off losses on April 15 (Blaine Boyer, at Los Angeles) and April 16 (Juan Rodriguez, at San Diego). Then, Arizona's pen was hammered for five ninth-inning St. Louis runs Wednesday in what at the time was a tied game.

The Cubs' plight caused Lou Piniella to move erstwhile ace Carlos Zambrano from the rotation to eighth-inning set-up man for closer Carlos Marmol in an absolutely stunning move of desperation. Through Tuesday, the Cubs had surrendered 16 eighth-inning runs, a major-league high. They also had allowed 32 runs in the seventh and eighth innings combined, also the most in the majors.

"A vast majority of these games are decided in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings," Piniella explained -- as opposed to, say, the first-through-sixth innings, when Zambrano (and Greinke and Dan Haren and Kevin Millwood) usually is on the mound.

This continues, some brave manager -- Washington with Feliz? Gonzalez with Leo Nunez? -- is going to call on his closer to protect a one-run lead in the eighth instead of the ninth, out of self-defense if nothing else. And maybe that will be the start of a new -- and welcome -- trend.
 Biggest culprits in blowing up opposing bullpens? Detroit this season has caused a whopping seven blown saves, while the Dodgers have caused six. Though, as manager Jim Leyland noted Thursday in Anaheim, it would make life far easier for the Tigers if they'd start scoring on starting pitchers.

 Regarding the scorched-earth pen in Texas, the Rangers already have lost five games they've led in the seventh inning or later this year. Last year, they lost only six of those games over their 162-game schedule.

 Baltimore hitters with runners in scoring position: A big-league worst .155 (17-for-110). And .103 (6-for-58) with RISP and two out.

 Chad Billingsley has a 7.07 ERA lodged in his throat after surrendering seven runs and seven hits to Cincinnati on Tuesday, Dodgers manager Joe Torre says it looks like the pitcher has confidence issues and Billingsley says his confidence is fine. Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Billingsley had command issues, Billingsley said he didn't. And in other news, the Dodgers say the earth is round and Billingsley says it's flat. This all had better get worked out, pronto.

 The suddenly reeling Giants, who went from 7-2 to getting swept by the Padres, face contenders St. Louis, Philadelphia and Colorado in a homestand beginning Friday and are perfectly set up for the Cards: Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain are lined up to start.

 The Twins, according to sources, had what they viewed as a workable deal to acquire Padres closer Heath Bell after Joe Nathan was hurt this spring but veered away because they were nervous over character issues. Bell's outspoken manner at times can grate on teammates.

 When is this guy going to get some work? Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton has converted his only save opportunity this season, and though he's only appeared in six of 15 games, one scout who has watched him this year and in spring training raves about him. "Mariano Rivera still sets the bar, but Jonathan Broxton right now is every bit as good," the scout says. "I saw him this spring and I've seen him this year, and je just comes in pumping strikes at 96 miles an hour."

 Glad to see baseball came to grips with Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's hoodie. Now let's move on to the maple bat issue before somebody gets decapitated.

 Sure wish Milton Bradley would quit giving everybody so much material. Now the Chicago landlord who sued Bradley for $44,000 in unpaid rent over the winter alleges that Bradley also caused $13,900 in damage to the condo with wine, food, juice and coffee stains as well as paint stains.

 One thing I neglected to mention last week while reviewing the Twins' superb new Target Field: The excellent touches extend all the way to the crew responsible for the in-game music, especially the inspired choices of playing clips of The Hold Steady's Stay Positive during key moments for the Twins in the late innings and Bruce Springsteen's Long Walk Home after losses.

 Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker may have a crack pinch-running candidate in-house and not even know it: Congratulations to Reds media relations guru Rob Butcher, who sets the bar in his day job, for not only completing the Boston Marathon on Monday but for doing so in 3:24:59. That's 7:49 per mile!


Posted on: March 15, 2009 5:00 pm
 

Hillman: Royals to unleash Soria

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Any other spring in which a Kansas City manager talks about how he will use his closer in the upcoming season might elicit a yawn or a shrug of the shoulders. But after the Royals compiled a baseball's-best 18-8 record last September and added leadoff man Coco Crisp and first baseman Mike Jacobs over the winter, who knows?

Nobody is predicting an AL Central title for the Royals, but things do seem to be headed in the right direction. Which is one reason why skipper Trey Hillman thinks the time and place are right to lengthen the leash on All-Star closer Joakim Soria.

In his first full season as Royals' closer in 2008, Soria essentially was a one-inning guy. His 42 saves ranked second in the American League, and of those, only two came in games in which he was asked to obtain more than three outs (he also had one blown save during which he entered the game in the eighth inning).

"Now, with more innings, we're going to be more aggressive with him," Hillman says. "We'll let the situation dictate, but maybe there will be times this year when we ask him to get four or five outs."

The Royals are very optimistic that they've improved their bullpen. The additions of right-handers Juan Cruz, Kyle Farnsworth, Doug Waechter and Jamey Wright, the return of Ron Mahay and John Bale (who is sidelined until late March with a thyroid condition) and the hot spring Robinson Tejada is having, combined with Soria, should give Hillman some dependable late-game options.

And the more consistent the Royals pitch in the sixth and seventh innings, the more games they should be in position to win in the eighth and ninth.

"It's a matter of being ready for situations," says Hillman of Soria, whom the Royals plucked from San Diego in the 2006 Rule V draft. "I think you need that one year of solidification without taxing him too much and putting him at risk."

That came last year, a breakout season in which Soria converted 42 of 47 save opportunities and became one of only 14 closers in major-league history (minimum 30 saves) to record more saves than hits allowed (39) in a season.

In 2007, Soria's quick ascension began in the bullpen, continued when he quickly became the Royals' set-up man and then went into overdrive when he became the primary closer.

The Royals were very aware of protecting Soria last season, with Hillman usually opting for somebody else on the third day if Soria had closed two consecutive games.

"During our 12-game losing streak (May 19-30), we had fans yelling at us, 'Where's Soria?!'" Hillman says. "But if he had pitched two days in a row, we were not going to pitch him a third day.

"I think we have more coverage for him this year. At least, from an experience standpoint."

Likes: Hall of Famer George Brett, upon hearing details of Team USA's mercy-rule loss to Puerto Rico, saying he was going to immediately call fellow HOFer Mike Schmidt, third-base coach for Team USA. "Oh, I'm going to call him and get all over him about this," Brett cackled. "I'll ask him, 'Are you guys even trying?'" ... The groundskeepers hard at work manicuring the field at 9:30 a.m. in a quiet Scottsdale Stadium on Sunday morning. One of them was taking grass clippings from a bucket and sprinkling them in bare spots, filling in areas where the sod was worn. "Shhhh," he said. No need to keep it quiet, though: Scottsdale Stadium is a beautiful place, the grass more consistently lush than anywhere else in the Cactus League and the trees on the other side of the outfield fence adding to the beauty. ... Padres broadcaster and former Yankees infielder Jerry Coleman busting into San Diego manager Bud Black's office the other day and expounding on the "lost art of the pop-up slide." ... The MLB Network is far better than I expected. More legitimate analysis, less propaganda. ... Seeing actor Timothy Busfield in Los Olivos, a Mexican joint in Oldtown Scottsdale, on Saturday night. I do miss The West Wing.

Dislikes: Arizona is loaded with those sneaky cameras not only looking to aid in ticketing drivers for running red lights, but also to catch them speeding. I've seen the red light cameras before, but I've never seen cameras rigged along freeways looking to catch speeders without a cop in sight. We're reaching the point where we need a citizens' uprising in our Big Brother society. If a cop can't catch you in a traffic violation, there should be no ticket.

Sunblock Day? Another in a streak of gorgeous Arizona days. Hot sun, 80ish, many girls wearing their summer clothes here in Scottsdale Stadium. Wish you were here.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"It’s a cartoon town,
"I play my part,
"And I ain’t spoke her name in years"

-- Drive-By Truckers, Marry Me

 

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com