So is now a good time to question the health of Joakim Soria?
Fresh off an inning in Texas on Friday, an inning in which Royals fans could hope things had started to turn around for the All-Star closer, Soria entered yesterday’s game with a lead in the ninth inning looking to put a stop to all the worries about his health and effectiveness. With a little help from Brayan Pena, he did not. A homerun to Nelson Cruz and the lack of command in the strike zone that has been the 2011 season for Soria lead to another blown save and a 7-6 loss.
Today, was no different.
The Royals jumped out quickly on Angels starter Ervin Santana with Alex Gordon’s first career lead-off homerun, and a three-run shot by Eric Hosmer in the first inning. It wasn’t a surprise that it wasn’t smooth sailing from then on, Luke Hochevar was on the mound after all, but once the three-run lead heading into the eighth was established, the Royals bullpen that was a strength and an asset just a couple weeks ago, imploded.
Louis Coleman gave up solo homeruns to Mark Trumbo and a thoroughly shocked-he-could-hit-a-ball-that-far Peter Bourgos, setting the stage for a ninth inning of what possibly should have been an Aaron Crow save opportunity. But, Royals manager Ned Yost just 24 hours earlier had said Joakim Soria was his closer, so coming in for the save in the ninth was his closer. Unfortunately it wasn’t his 2010 version.
Soria lead off the inning jumping ahead of Erick Aybar with two fastballs on the outside corner just like old times. The 0-2 curveball in the dirt was something Royals fans haven’t seen much of since the 2009 season. Maybe, just maybe, the confidence from his manager has helped in right this ship, at least for one game.
Next, Bobby Abreu singled off Soria raising his career average against the Royals to .814, then a 2-0 fastball right down the middle to the increasingly-annoying bat-flipping Torii Hunter landed in the left field seats. Blown save No. 5, 9-8 Angels.
Soria would go on to give up another run in the ninth, allowing two more hits before striking out the side to end the inning, but he never really seemed that comfortable.
After the game Bob Dutton tweeted that the Royals had stripped Soria of his closer title for KoK Favorite and rookie Aaron Crow. A little bit after that it was learned that in fact Soria himself had asked Yost to remove him from his duties for the time being to get himself right.
It would be irresponsible to outright dismiss the methodology of keeping a well sought-after closer on the roster of a losing team only after the type of month Joakim Soria has had. But the discussion of whether the Royals should really hold on to such a valuable piece, which is so completely misused and unneeded on a team that admits they will not be winning anytime soon, isn’t new to Kansas City.
Last offseason rumors swirled about whether or not the Yankees were willing to trade their uber-prospect Jesus Montero in an effort to use Soria as their setup man for Mariano Rivera. The Royals, being rather set at the moment at first base and thinking that losing games in the late innings would be devastating to the development of the young players that would be coming up from the system in the next 18 months, felt having Soria for those save situations would mean more than not having him. A justifiable stance when you consider the success Soria has had over the past three seasons, and there is a luxury in at least knowing there is one position on your roster you can have some certainty in.
But what happens now?
The Royals and Soria insist there is no reason for concern on the injury front, which is fine, but the history of the organization, the history of the position, and the history of players with drastic declines in performance in a very sudden timeframe, seems to suggest otherwise.
Right now, it’s Aaron Crow’s turn. He’s been outstanding so far in his first season in the major leagues and his first season as a reliever. An 8.7 SO/9 ratio and a 1.037 WHIP is a nice place to start when you’re looking for a closer, so for however long his turn lasts, Crow should do fine with the role.
For Soria this is an opportunity to spend some time trying to right whatever is wrong with his delivery or with his shoulder that is causing the sudden drop in velocity and command.
For the Royals, it’s an opportunity to fix their All-Star. They’re right that winning games is still the most important step in the development of a player and a franchise, and having a closer of Soria’s talents, however miscast they may be, means a lot to the talent on the roster now and on the way because late inning loses can be devastating.
A healthy and effective Joakim Soria not only means a lot to the talent on the roster, but a lot to the organization as a whole in what he could possibly bring back in a trade.
Hopefully, now is not too late for either scenario.