Soria serving up homers in bounce-back year
CLEVELAND -- Joakim Soria has a similar-sounding first name to another former Tigers setup man turned closer, but that had been his only similarity with Joaquin Benoit. They have different body frames, different arsenals and different Major League track records.
Yet as Soria rolls on as the Tigers' closer, he's encountering a problem that Benoit seemed to battle for at least one stretch every season: Soria is dealing with a rash of home runs. Much like Benoit in 2012, however, Soria is battling home runs at a pace he's never seen in his career, even as he enjoys a bounce-back season on a contending team.
Overall, the numbers are strong. But when Indians backup catcher Roberto Perez sent a first-pitch fastball deep to right field off Soria in the ninth inning during Monday night's 8-5 win, it marked Soria's fifth home run allowed in his last six outings, and his seventh this season, tying his career high from 2011 while with Kansas City. Perez's jack didn't spark a Cleveland rally, but it continued a trend.
Those seven homers are three more than have been allowed by any other closer with at least six saves this season. The tricky part, and the part that makes his trend complicated to judge, is that less than half (three) have actually come in save situations. Three have resulted in a lead change, including Todd Frazier's walk-off grand slam at Cincinnati last week when Soria inherited a bases-loaded jam.
For that reason, manager Brad Ausmus downplayed the total. Pitching coach Jeff Jones took a look nevertheless.
"His stuff still looks good," Jones said. "He's a strike-thrower and he's aggressive, and he throws his fastball a lot. His big key is being able to throw his fastball. The home run he gave up to Frazier, that was a breaking ball. But the last couple, he just missed his location."
Frazier's homer was the first off a Soria curveball since 2008. Even his other pitches haven't resulted in long balls like this, though.
Soria believes the situation plays into a hitter's approach, but he still wanted to take a look on video and see if he has a problem.
"They're obviously more aggressive in those types of situations," Soria said. "They're more free-swinging instead of when it's a close game, they might go up with a different strategy. But it's part of baseball.
"We have to make an adjustment. We have to see what's going on and try to keep the ball in the park."
The last thing the Tigers want is for Soria to start pitching around some hitters, which for them would be worse. Better to risk a run making opponents swing the bat than allowing free baserunners without a ball in play. All but Frazier's grand slam have been solo shots.
Other than the homers, in fact, Soria's numbers have been quite good. Entering Tuesday, his .208 batting average against and .904 WHIP are on track to be his lowest since 2008. His .189 average allowed on balls put in play is the lowest of his career. Yet, Soria's .436 slugging percentage allowed is a career high.
"It's not necessarily the same pitch," Soria said, "but it keeps happening, so I have to make more quality pitches or make an adjustment."