Detroit Tigers make it official: Gregory Soto is the closer; Derek Hill needs surgery

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Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch finally spoke the magic words Tuesday afternoon.

"Gregory Soto is our closer," Hinch said at the team's season-ending news conference.

The running joke appeared throughout the season, especially when Soto established himself as an All-Star reliever and the best pitcher in the organization's bullpen. Hinch used Soto in high-leverage save situations all year, but refused to label him the closer.

"But he might pitch the seventh, the eighth or the ninth, and sometimes the sixth," Hinch continued. "So there, I said it. Go with it. First tweet wins."

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Tigers pitcher Gregory Soto reacts the the final out in the ninth inning of the Tigers' 4-2 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Gregory Soto reacts the the final out in the ninth inning of the Tigers' 4-2 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, at Comerica Park.

Soto finished the season with a 3.39 ERA, 40 walks, 76 strikeouts and 18 saves (in 19 chances) over 63⅔ innings in 62 appearances. He led the team in saves, followed by Michael Fulmer (14), Jose Cisnero (4), Bryan Garcia (2), Kyle Funkhouser (1), Alex Lange (1), Joe Jimenez (1) and Daniel Norris (1).

The 26-year-old made his first All-Star Game in July.

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"(Pitching coach) Chris Fetter and AJ have done a tremendous job with our bullpen," Tigers general manager Al Avila said. "We got a guy in Gregory Soto that we believe can be a closer for the next several years. You get a guy like Cisnero that came out of nowhere, he led the (bullpen) in innings pitched and did an outstanding job in a variety of roles.

"You have Alex Lange coming on really strong here at the end. When we made that trade, we felt he wasn't going to be a starter. He was drafted as a starter, but he was going to become a good back-end of the bullpen guy. These guys have developed that in him. We feel confident there. We got a guy like Jason Foley. If we can get him to believe in himself more, he's got the kind of stuff that can pitch in those late innings."

Hinch didn't want to name Soto the closer during the season because he believes in getting multiple innings from his relievers and using them in high-leverage spots regardless of the inning. Soto has proven he can do handle those, all while handling the traditional save situations.

The official title gives Soto what he deserves, but Hinch will not change the way he freely uses his bullpen during games.

Injury update

Outfielder Derek Hill underwent surgery in California to "clean up his meniscus," Hinch said. The defense-first center fielder landed on the injured list Sept. 19 after a collision on the bases ended his rookie season.

"He's going to be fine," Hinch said. "Everything was very positive. But yet another surgery that we're going to have to monitor throughout the offseason. (Athletic trainer) Doug Teter is going to be pretty busy."

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The 25-year-old played 49 games for the Tigers, hitting .259 with three doubles, three triples, three home runs, 14 RBIs, 10 walks and 42 strikeouts. He also competed in 34 games for Triple-A Toledo, recording a .320 batting average, four homers, 15 RBIs, 10 walks and 39 strikeouts.

The Tigers drafted Hill with the 23rd overall pick in 2014.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him 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 make it official: Gregory Soto is the closer for 2022