Detroit Tigers reliever Gregory Soto has been selected to the 2021 All-Star Game, scheduled for July 13 at Coors Field in Denver. The game between the American League and National League starts at 7:30 p.m.
The Tigers had a few worthy candidates — rookie starter Casey Mize, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, righty reliever Jose Cisnero and Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo — but the left-handed Soto was selected to represent the organization on the AL All-Star team’s roster.
This is Soto’s first All-Star Game in his three-year MLB career.
“It’s a big achievement,” Soto said Sunday. “For me and my family, it’s very important. Since I was a kid, I’ve always thought about that. Now it’s a dream come true.”
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Soto, 26, is 4-1 with six saves, a 2.94 ERA, 20 walks and 40 strikeouts over 33⅔ innings (36 appearances) this season. He made his MLB debut in 2019 as a starter but transitioned to the bullpen, where he is thriving.
“His stuff has always been talked about, written about and feared from the other side,” said Tigers manager AJ Hinch, who informed Soto of his All-Star Game selection Sunday morning. “The big question: Was he going to be able to harness it? And he’s really put together a nice run of quality outings in high leverage with zero room for error. I’ve only put him in the toughest spots imaginable.”
Soto entered Sunday with a 0.53 ERA in his past 17 outings, with six walks and 20 strikeouts over 17 innings. (He gave up three earned runs and got two outs in a Sunday appearance against the Chicago White Sox.) His improvements through the month of June displayed how far he has come in his ability to throw strikes, trust his arsenal and attack hitters.
His strengths include a 97-100 mph fastball and a wipeout slider.
With the All-Star game nod, , Soto is looking forward to showcasing his development on a national stage. He is the franchise’s third All-Star reliever in the past four years, following Joe Jimenez in 2018 and Shane Greene in 2019. (Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t a Midsummer Classic in 2020.)
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Soto watched plenty of All-Star Games and focused on the left-handed pitchers. Early on, he pinpointed the event as a goal for his MLB career. He began working toward becoming an All-Star when the Tigers signed him in December 2012.
“Pitchers like Randy Johnson being in the All-Star Game, I said, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ Of course, I wanted to be there,” Soto said. “I wanted to be there really badly. I saw other pitchers like Clayton Kershaw. Being as young as he was starting to go to the All-Star Game, it’s something that encouraged me a lot.”
Soto is especially looking forward to seeing San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. in Denver. Tatis, 22, has a .301 batting average, 26 home runs and 57 RBIs in 66 games this season. In February, he signed a 14-year, $340 million contract extension that will keep him in San Diego through the 2034 campaign.
Also, Tatis hails from the Dominican Republic.
“We played together in 2017 (in the offseason),” Soto said. “We have a really good relationship and talk a lot, so he’s one of the guys I would like to face.”
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In 2019, Soto posted a 5.77 ERA, 33 walks and 45 strikeouts, appearing in 33 games (seven starts).
Last year, the 6-foot-1 lefty finished with a 4.30 ERA, 13 walks and 29 strikeouts in 23 innings. All 27 outings were as a reliever, and he chipped in the first two saves of his career. Closing out wins is something the Tigers expect from Soto, especially now that he has boosted his command.
Still, Hinch isn’t assigning defined roles — at least not yet — to his most trusted relievers, which include Soto, Cisnero, Michael Fulmer and Kyle Funkhouser. Jimenez, the team’s 2018 All-Star representative, has recently earned high-leverage opportunities, as well, even after a rough start to the season.
“He wants be named the closer,” Hinch said of Soto. “He really does want the responsibility at the back end, but I know some outs in the sixth inning, seventh inning and eighth inning that he’s gotten this year specifically helped us win games. That should be valued, and that should be rewarded.”
As Soto works toward the closer role, his confidence continues to intensify.
And not only because he is headed to Denver.
“It’s very, very different, and it’s a big difference,” Soto said. “When I got here in 2019, making a comparison to right now, I’m another guy.”
“I’m a different pitcher.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.