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Soria brings stability to closer's role for Tigers

Righty fully healthy and racking up saves

DETROIT -- Joe Nathan will visit orthopedic surgeon Dr. Keith Meister in Texas this coming week, likely to plan out surgery on his torn elbow ligament and flexor pronator muscle. For him, the comeback begins after Tommy John surgery.

For Joakim Soria, the comeback to his days as a shutdown closer seems to be complete.

"I don't think we ever saw the real Joakim Soria," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think this is probably more the real Joakim Soria. This is the guy that we traded for."

The Soria the Tigers traded for last season wasn't acquired to be a closer, at least not last year. Soria, who saved 17 games in 19 chances for the Rangers before the July 23 trade, never had a set role in Detroit last season. He might have settled into one eventually, but his oblique strain took him out of action long enough that he didn't have time to fit into the mix, instead helping out everywhere from the seventh inning to the ninth.

Video: [email protected]: Soria fans Perez to save it for the Tigers

Soria's injury didn't have any impact on his velocity last year. He actually threw his fastball slightly harder (just under 92 mph) after returning than he did for most of the summer in Texas, according to data from The movement, Ausmus said, was a little different.

That's what he has now, in addition to his set role.

"His fastball's got its cut back to it," Ausmus said. "Last year it didn't seem to do that as consistently. He's throwing strikes. He's going right after guys. He's very calm on the mound in save situations. So far, he's done an excellent job."

Video: [email protected]: Soria induces a flyout, earns the save

After Sunday's 8-6 win, Soria is 7-for-7 in save opportunities since Nathan's save on Opening Day. Beyond the bottom line, the pure pitching numbers have been dominant, even without a traditional power fastball.

Opposing hitters are 3-for-30 with one walk and five strikeouts against Soria. When David Murphy led off Sunday's ninth inning with a pinch-hit homer, it was the first base hit off Soria since Mike Aviles and Jason Kipnis singled on April 11 in Cleveland, ending a streak of six hitless innings.

Soria has put 12 of his 31 batters in 0-2 counts. More than 40 percent of his strikes have been called, just over 10 percent swings and misses, according to Hitters are 3-for-25 when putting the ball in play.

Soria has essentially pounded the strike zone with fastballs and cutters and let opponents decide what to do. So far, they've done little.

"I feel like my command is the key right now, on my fastball and all of my pitches," Soria said. "I was able to locate where I wanted [Saturday]."

His catcher agrees.

"I wouldn't say that [last year's injury] affected his stuff so much, but his ability to command it," Alex Avila said. "He's got impeccable command. For him, that's priority No. 1."

Soria's success has stabilized the closer's role so effectively that Detroit's only concern in the wake of Nathan's season-ending injury has been to fill the innings before the ninth. While the Tigers have reportedly kept tabs on Rafael Soriano working out at the Boras Sports Training Institute in Miami, they are not believed to have had serious discussions on him yet. How Bruce Rondon progresses in his rehab from biceps tendinitis -- he's currently progressing incrementally in mound sessions -- could have a bigger impact on that than Nathan's situation ever did.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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