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Soria's loyal heart never left Kansas City

Reliever returns wiser to bolster bullpen in second stint with Royals
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- One of general manager Dayton Moore's first priorities when he joined the Royals in 2006 was to build a shutdown bullpen.

Acquiring leads would be hard enough to come by in a rebuilding process, Moore reasoned, so any late leads had to be protected and turned into victories.

KANSAS CITY -- One of general manager Dayton Moore's first priorities when he joined the Royals in 2006 was to build a shutdown bullpen.

Acquiring leads would be hard enough to come by in a rebuilding process, Moore reasoned, so any late leads had to be protected and turned into victories.

For more than four years, right-hander Joakim Soria, signed as a Rule 5 pick in 2007, was the man who protected those leads. During the stretch from 2008-10, Soria was as dominant a closer as there was in baseball, posting 115 saves with a 1.84 ERA.

"The beginning of our good bullpens began with Joakim and the tone that he set," Moore said. "It was his poise, the consistency and the efficiency with his pitches, and the toughness to get people out."

But Soria's elbow betrayed him in 2011 -- much like Greg Holland's elbow did last year -- and by early April of 2012, Soria underwent his second Tommy John surgery. After Soria rehabbed that season, the Royals declined to exercise their option on him.

Moore wanted him back, but they could not come to terms on a deal, and Soria opted to test free agency before he signed with the Rangers.

But in many ways, Soria says, his heart never left the Royals.

"I always had a good relationship with Dayton," Soria said at last weekend's FanFest. "I left -- I had to walk away from the organization. But we left in a good way. There was not fighting or arguing."

And Soria never forgot the organization that gave him his break in the big leagues.

"Yes, it was the team that gave me an opportunity," he said "I'm a really loyal guy, and I appreciate it."

That loyalty and appreciation has led Soria back to the Royals. He signed a three-year $25 million deal in December.

"And we're really glad to have him back," Moore said, "and the neat thing about it is he said, 'Look, whatever role you want me in.'"

Soria will start out mixing in with fellow back-of-the-bullpen relievers Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and closer Wade Davis, who likely will need a break every now and then after a heavy workload in 2015 that included a run to a World Series title.

"You need depth because guys are going to break down or need rest," Moore said.

Before Soria left in 2013, he was known as one of the more deceptive closers in the game -- hitters often complained that his 92-mph fastball appeared to be in the 98-mph range.

Soria says he is the same pitcher now, but perhaps with a few more smarts.

"With the time, you get a little wise," he said. "But I'm the same guy -- same stuff, same pitches, same velocity, same everything. I'm not a 100-mph velocity guy. They have those."

Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Kansas City Royals, Joakim Soria