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Soria comfortable stepping back into closer role

With Nathan on disabled list, Tigers turn to veteran with 178 career saves

DETROIT -- Joakim Soria spent five years setting down Tigers hitters as the closer for the Kansas City Royals. He went two years and 12 appearances without giving up a run to Detroit, let alone a save opportunity.

Now, the Tigers are trusting the ninth inning to him as they try to top the Royals in the division. It's a turning of the tables in his career, but not a major adjustment for him in his game.

"I have done that before," Soria said Thursday morning. "My whole career, I was a closer, so I know what to expect."

Soria saved 160 games in 180 opportunities for the Royals, including 43-of-46 in a stellar 2010 season that saw him post a 1.78 ERA and strike out 71 batters over 65 2/3 innings.

Soria threw slightly harder then than he does now, but not by much. He was also a closer in Texas last season with the stuff he has now before coming over to Detroit in the July trade for prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, the latter since traded to Milwaukee.

Soria had a save last season on a night when Joe Nathan was rested. His opportunity now comes with Nathan on the disabled list for at least the next two weeks with a strained elbow flexor muscle, the kind of injury from which it can take a while to recover.

Video: Dombrowski talks about placing Nathan on the DL

A strong stint at closer could lead to choices for manager Brad Ausmus to make. Soria, however, isn't thinking about that.

"I feel sorry about Joe," Soria said. "Hopefully he's fine and he can come back soon. About being in that role, it's something that I have done, so I'm used to this. I used to be closer on a Major League team."

The only adjustment Soria has made is to his beard, which he had been growing since the winter. What looked not long ago like the long, intimidating beard of a closer has since been trimmed a bit. Soria had been promising he'd trim it once the weather warmed up, but spring in Michigan isn't that predictable.

Nor is the forecast for who will set up for him, and Ausmus said he'll handle it by matchups. Joba Chamberlain took on the bulk of setup duties last season after Bruce Rondon underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery, but he also seemed to show the effects of a heavy workload as the season went on. Ian Krol and Al Alburquerque could also get opportunities.

Even Angel Nesbitt hasn't been ruled out, though Ausmus will have some reluctance to throw him into too many pressure situations.

"Well, we have a couple guys in here," Soria said. "It's hard to say one. Whoever is coming, we hope he's at his best, and whoever is coming, prove that he can pitch in the big leagues."

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