Ausmus slots Soria in as setup man for now
Ausmus planning to use Nathan in ninth, waiting to see on Rondon
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joakim Soria rolled into Tigers camp Thursday morning and said he hadn't yet discussed his role with manager Brad Ausmus. By midday, Soria's role was pretty clear, at least for now.
"I think at this point, that's probably what it's going to be, Joe [Nathan] pitch the ninth, Soria in the eighth," Ausmus said Thursday. "Obviously [Bruce] Rondon's health plays into this as far as how everything else fits in the bullpen.
"But in my mind, and I mentioned it in Detroit during the [Winter] Caravan, we need these guys in Joe and Joakim to get back to where they were. And if they are, we're in great shape. If we have to adjust after the fact, then we will."
It's a return to the order Ausmus had planned for the stretch run last year, minus former Tigers setup man Joba Chamberlain. In so doing, it's a step back from previous hints this offseason that Soria could step in and close if Nathan struggles in Spring Training.
At the same time, the "adjust after the fact" part is an acknowledgement that they can't have another year of the bullpen drama that played out last summer and reached critical stages down the stretch and into the American League Division Series.
Soria made 13 regular-season appearances after joining the Tigers last summer, missing most of August with an oblique strain. Five of those appearances came in the seventh inning and six others in the ninth, including one save. He filled three different spots for Ausmus down the stretch before giving up four eighth-inning runs in the Tigers' Division Series opener at Baltimore and taking the loss in Game 2.
Soria did whatever the Tigers needed on a given night without complaint. Still, some definition was preferable going forward.
"It's important that everybody has a role," Soria said Thursday. "I think in any position, if you have a role, you know what to work for, what to expect, what situation you're in the game and what situation you're not. I think it's important to everybody."
Both Soria and Nathan reported to camp Thursday -- Soria coming in from his offseason home in Arizona, Nathan escaping the ice storm that hit his winter home in Knoxville, Tenn. Both arrived with something to prove.
Nathan wants to prove he's not done at age 40 following a turbulent first season in Detroit, and he revamped his offseason workouts to help. Soria wants to prove he can handle whatever role he's assigned. At age 30, his next big contract could be riding on it.
"When you put it that way, yes," said Soria, who's up for free agency at season's end. "But every year is big. We're in the big leagues and this is a big thing. You're ready for the season and try to do your best every time and try to compete every single year. It doesn't matter your status, contract-wise."
The unknown factor in the late-inning mix is Rondon, whose absence has left a glaring void in Detroit's bullpen in the past two postseasons. Two springs ago, the Tigers' closing job was his to lose, despite no Major League experience, but he wasn't ready. He entered last spring as the setup man, but lingering right elbow issues turned out to be a torn ligament that required Tommy John surgery.
This spring, Ausmus isn't writing in Rondon for any role, waiting to see his health first.