Simplified delivery works wonders for Soto

July 30th, 2020

DETROIT -- Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson and bullpen coach Jeff Pico began working on ’s delivery near the end of last season. Soto’s days as a starter were clearly done; given Detroit’s depth in starting pitching prospects, his future was in the bullpen.

The goal was to simplify Soto’s delivery, eliminate unnecessary motion and get him firing to the plate. His arm strength is good enough that he didn’t need the quirks to throw hard.

“Andy shortened him up a little bit, got him away from the big windup, and everything seems a lot more in control,” said manager Ron Gardenhire.

As he worked through his latest dominant performance Tuesday night, striking out two Royals in a perfect seventh inning, the adjustments have clearly paid off.

"I've been simplifying that action towards home plate,” Soto said through a translator last weekend, “and it helps me save energy on all of my pitches.”

The lefty is not lacking for energy, or velocity. His sinking fastball is averaging 97.5 mph, up from 95.3 mph last season according to Statcast. It had crept up to 96 over the final month of last season, along with his four-seam fastball.

More importantly, his fastball command has improved, and his swing-and-miss rate with the pitch has more than doubled. Seven of the 12 batters he has faced this season through Tuesday’s game struck out and none managed a base hit.

“Speed hasn't been my concern,” Soto said. “Since I arrived to the USA, my velo has been over 95 miles an hour. As long as I keep working and throwing strikes, my velo is getting higher. I know my fastball reaches out 97-98. That's something I've been working on.”

Mechanics were a big part of Soto’s work during the offseason as well as the pandemic-induced shutdown, but so was nutrition. He stayed in his native Dominican Republic to get himself in better shape to be able to get through a season with a heavier workload. He said he has also been eating healthier.

“I kept strong and ready,” he said, “because at the moment we will be back on the field, I wanted to be in the best shape I could. So the idea was to be ready for this moment when I received a phone call [to report to Summer Camp]. I just wanted to be ready.”

Command will be a big factor in whether he can keep this up, as Gardenhire acknowledged. He was wild in his warmup pitches Tuesday, including one to the backstop, but he flipped the switch when the game began and threw seven strikes in an eight-pitch inning. His 78-percent strike rate is unsustainable, but his first-pitch strike rate of 75 percent has allowed him to work ahead in the count and mix in his slider.

“My fastball is my best pitch. I've been having more confidence in throwing the slider,” Soto said. “I feel I can trust my slider. I can throw it in any type of count -- 3-2, 3-1, doesn't matter. Whatever pitch between the fastball and the slider they ask me to throw, I'll throw it.”

Soto’s three-pitch strikeout of Ryan O’Hearn on Tuesday was devastating. After O’Hearn fouled back a 98 mph fastball at the top of the strike zone, Soto delivered a 98 mph sinker at the knees for strike two. With an 0-2 count, Soto stayed in the zone and hit the outside corner with a 99 mph heater for the strikeout.

Quick hit
, who was placed on the 10-day injured list Monday, has been diagnosed with right forearm tendinitis after an MRI exam showed no structural damage. He will rehab at the Tigers’ alternate training site in Toledo.