Detroit Tigers closer Gregory Soto not fazed by recent struggles: 'It's just a baseball thing'

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Gregory Soto hasn't pitched well in his past two outings.

The Detroit Tigers' left-handed closer allowed a combined three runs on three hits and three walks with one strikeout against the Houston Astros on May 5 and the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday.

Soto, a 2021 All-Star, isn't concerned.

"It's just a baseball thing," Soto said Friday. "Those outings are supposed to come, either at the beginning, the middle or the end of the season, but they're going to come. And now, they're happening."

Detroit Tigers reliever Gregory Soto (65) pitches against the Oakland Athletics during ninth-inning action Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Detroit Tigers reliever Gregory Soto (65) pitches against the Oakland Athletics during ninth-inning action Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at Comerica Park in Detroit.

WHAT HAPPENED: Tigers dig deeper into hole with every loss. Here's how things went south so quickly

JEFF SEIDEL: Tigers consistently blow chance after chance. But they could learn from this rookie

Manager A.J. Hinch has encouraged focusing on one game at a time since the Tigers hired him in October 2020. His team carries a 9-23 record — worst in the American League — into Friday's series opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park.

Soto takes a similar approach for his personal performance. The 27-year-old had a 3.39 ERA in 63⅔ innings last season, with a 27.5% strikeout rate and 14.5% walk rate.

"There's nothing I keep on my mind," Soto said. "Even when I do good, I do the same thing. I turn the page and focus on tomorrow's game. Regardless of a good or bad outing, I just turn the page."

This season, Soto owns a 4.00 ERA with seven walks and eight strikeouts in nine innings across 10 outings, for a 1-2 record with four saves in five chances.

No Tigers pitcher — primarily because of the team's lackluster offense — has earned a save since May 4, when Soto locked down the Pittsburgh Pirates with a perfect ninth.

After that, Soto stumbled.

"I just haven't seen the same command with him or the same conviction," Hinch said Wednesday, after Soto conceded two runs in the ninth inning of a 9-0 loss. "Today is not a normal game he would pitch. He hadn't pitched in five or six games.

"The fastball command has started to escape him a little bit. That gets every pitcher in trouble, but I think Soto, especially with the kind of velocity (98 mph) he has, needs his fastball to be dominant."

Soto confirmed the command issues.

He has a career-worst 17.5% walk rate, to go with a 20% strikeout rate, through 10 games this season, but he posted just four walks in his first eight innings, followed by three in his past two games (one inning total).

"Just a little bit," Soto said. "But nothing to get worried about. ... When I'm having some issues with the fastball, I will throw one or two sliders just to get back to where I want to be with my fastball."

Tigers relief pitcher Gregory Soto reacts after striking out Pirates' Roberto Perez (not pictured) during the ninth inning in the first game of a doubleheader, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in Detroit. The Tigers won, 3-2.
Tigers relief pitcher Gregory Soto reacts after striking out Pirates' Roberto Perez (not pictured) during the ninth inning in the first game of a doubleheader, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, in Detroit. The Tigers won, 3-2.

Soto also hasn't been consistently used in high-leverage situations, only because the 2022 Tigers have typically trailed their opponents in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

The offense entered Friday averaging 2.75 runs per game, the fewest in the majors.

"I'm ready to pitch whenever they want me to be on the field, regardless of the situation of the game — winning or behind in the score," Soto said. "I know that we got to be winning for me to step up as a closer, but if they need me before, with the game tied or something, I'm ready to do my stuff."

The Tigers have lost 16 of their past 19 games.

Hinch needs Soto, and everyone else, to deliver improved results.

"We have a winning team," Soto said. "We have a chance to win this division. We have a chance to win everything. It's just a matter of putting all the things together to start winning as we should."

Austin Meadows 'really in a bad place'

Outfielder Austin Meadows didn't show up to Comerica Park for Friday's series opener against the Orioles. He spent his afternoon in the doctor's office due to recurring issues with an inner-ear infection.

"His balance is bad," Hinch said Friday. "He's dizzy. He's got sickness. He's just unavailable. He called me midday. He had gone to an appointment with his wife and was really in a bad place."

Detroit Tigers left fielder Austin Meadows bats against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning Saturday, April 9, 2022, at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Detroit Tigers left fielder Austin Meadows bats against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning Saturday, April 9, 2022, at Comerica Park in Detroit.

The timetable for Meadows' return is unclear.

"Hate to see your player not be in a good place," Hinch said. "Hopefully, it's just a day."

The 27-year-old has been dealing with a non-COVID illness since May 6, when the Tigers scratched him from the lineup. He missed the final three of four games against the Houston Astros. Meadows then played all five games against the Oakland Athletics, from Monday-Thursday.

He is hitting .270 with four doubles, two triples, 11 RBIs, 12 walks and 14 strikeouts in 27 games.

Lefty joins organization

The Tigers claimed left-handed reliever Sam Howard off waivers Friday from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Howard, 29, has pitched for two teams in parts of five MLB seasons: the Colorado Rockies (2018-19) and Pirates (2020-22). The Rockies selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft.

"We're always looking for ways to upgrade," Hinch said. "We've had some roster spots open up that gave us an opportunity to surf the waiver wire and get a good young arm that dabbled in the big leagues on a couple different teams."

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Sam Howard, center, awaits a new ball as Washington Nationals' Josh Bell (19) runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. Nationals first base coach Randy Knorr is at left. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Sam Howard, center, awaits a new ball as Washington Nationals' Josh Bell (19) runs the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. Nationals first base coach Randy Knorr is at left. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

For the Pirates, Howard pitched 45 innings across 54 outings in 2021. He had a 5.60 ERA with 32 walks and 60 strikeouts, as left-handed hitters posted a .158 batting average against him.

But right-handers hit .259 last season.

"He's handled left-handed hitters pretty effectively. He's got a good arm. He's got options," Hinch said. "... We'll try to untap his potential of being a better strike thrower and getting righties out as well as lefties."

Howard was designated for assignment on May 7.

He has a career 5.34 ERA.

Where's Akil Baddoo?

Outfielder Akil Baddoo, optioned to Triple-A Toledo on Monday, made just his second appearance for the Mud Hens on Friday, missing games Wednesday and Thursday.

The 23-year-old dealt with a non-COVID illness.

"He reported illness that kept him away from the field not to get anybody sick," Hinch said. "It had gone through our clubhouse here with a couple guys, so it didn't surprise me."

Baddoo went 0-for-5 with one strikeout in his first game for Toledo. He hit .140 (7-for-50) with five walks and 15 strikeouts in 17 games for the Tigers to start the season before his demotion.

New to the market

Right-hander Drew Hutchison was designated for assignment Wednesday.

He cleared waivers Friday and elected free agency. The 31-year-old logged a 4.60 ERA with 12 walks and 15 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings over 10 games out of the bullpen.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers closer Gregory Soto not fazed by recent struggles