Soto earns save as Detroit plays matchups

August 30th, 2020

DETROIT -- wasn’t coronated as the Tigers’ closer when Ron Gardenhire turned to his hard-throwing lefty for the final inning of Saturday’s doubleheader sweep. The matchups dictated his presence more than the manager did.

“We’ve got our charts, and they give you the best pitchers for each hitter. And we believed yesterday that who was coming up, that part of the lineup, we needed a power arm,” Gardenhire said. “We wanted somebody because you're going through that part of the lineup, that's the big boys. We've set him up like that a few times just to get through the big part of the inning and he’s done pretty well.”

Detroit has played matchups with Soto for the last few weeks, but in the setup innings. Saturday was the first time Gardenhire did it in the closer role. But with no set closer for now, this was his opportunity.

As Soto danced on the precipice of loading the bases with nobody out, falling behind in the count on Miguel Sanó after a Nelson Cruz leadoff single and an Eddie Rosario five-pitch walk, Gardenhire had and former closer warming in the bullpen as potential replacements. Had Soto loaded the bases, matchups or not, Gardenhire was ready to make a move.

“If he walked another guy, I think we would've had to,” Gardenhire said. “I don't think you would've had a choice. We stuck with him because we felt that he was throwing the ball better as he got going. He was slowing down a little bit. When Sanó came up, Farmer wasn’t ready.”

Soto finished the job. With a well-placed 96 mph sinker at the knees and a ground-ball double play, Soto turned a two-on, no-out situation with the potential go-ahead run at the plate into a runner on third with two outs and Marwin Gonzalez at the plate as the tying run. Soto fell behind again, running a 3-1 count, but he turned back to the sinker for a foul ball at the belt and a called third strike on the outside corner.

It was Soto’s first save in the United States. He had three last offseason in winter ball.

“I like to feel that type of situation. I know we’re made for that type of stressful situations. That’s why we have a gift.” Soto said through translator Carlos Guillen. “Having an opportunity to do it, I can’t let it go. I have to take advantage of it.”

Closing in the Dominican can be more pressure, Soto said. When fans there yell, it’s in his native language, and it can be salty. That stint helped him.

“I know I didn’t come to be a closer,” he said. “I just came here to do my job whenever I’m called. That made me throw away pressure and focus on what I have to do.”

Gardenhire will continue to go closer-by-committee until Jiménez returns to form. Full-time closing might be in Soto’s future, but not right away.

“I think he’s slowly gotta build into it,” Gardenhire said. “I’m not saying he’s ready to do it on an everyday basis. He’s gotta command the strike zone a little bit better. That’s a no-no with closers. You have to throw strikes. When you have a great arm, it’s gotta go over the plate. If they hit you, that’s one thing. If you walk people, that’s not good in closing situations. That’s why Jiménez, we’re trying to let him get his confidence back.”

Soto didn’t have to wait long for another chance. In the Tigers' 3-2 win Sunday, Gardenhire lined up his bullpen again with Soto at the end.

He faced the bottom of the Twins' order, but Ryan Jeffers’ two-out single brought Max Kepler to the plate as the potential winning run. Soto fell behind against him but used a 97 mph sinker to get a game-ending lineout to center.

“He throws gas. I mean, he lets it fly,” Gardenhire said. “We trust him. As long as he throws it over, he's going to have success. There's going to be times when he's throwing 98 and they hit it back at him that hard. But he doesn't have any fear. If we just get keeping him throwing it over, we have a pretty good bullpen situation where we can use a lot of different people and match up with a lot of teams' offenses. And that's the fun part. We're matching up pretty good.”

Quick hits
• Catcher was scratched from Sunday’s starting lineup with right knee soreness. Grayson Greiner replaced him in the lineup, batting eighth.

• Infielder spent Sunday morning on the field at Comerica Park getting outfield work as Gardenhire tries to find ways to get him in the lineup with Isaac Paredes settling in at third base and Niko Goodrum set at short.

“You want to see him and Paredes getting plenty of at-bats through the rest of this thing,” Gardenhire said. “Just looking for another option. We'll just take a look at him, see what he can do.”