ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Detroit Tigers reliever Gregory Soto strolled from the dugout to left field Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Athletic trainer Doug Teter and pitching coach Chris Fetter inspected his throwing hand, which has a bruise on the inside part of his ring finger, after a light throwing session. He suffered the injury in Friday’s 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays but doesn’t seem to need a stint on the injured list because X-rays came back negative.
“Nothing’s broken or anything like that,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Saturday, adding he was waiting for a further update from Teter. “It’s pretty bruised, so we’ll see where that takes us. … He said he felt fine today when he walked by me to go play catch.”
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Handling a 4-1 ninth-inning lead against the American League’s best team, Soto got ahead 0-2 — thanks to a pair of sliders for a called strike and swinging strike — to Manuel Margot. But Margot drilled Soto’s third slider in a row with a 99.9 mph exit velocity. The comebacker ricocheted off Soto’s left hand.
Margot picked up a single; Soto dropped to the ground in pain.
Teter and Hinch jogged to the center of the diamond to check on him. Hinch allowed his All-Star reliever to stay in the game. Soto vouched for himself, as well. This season, the 26-year-old has a 3.39 ERA with 40 walks, 76 strikeouts and 18 saves over 63⅔ innings in 62 appearances.
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Of course, the rest is history to the Tigers and Rays.
“I don’t know that it was that difficult,” Hinch said. “I trust my players. I believe in them. I think they’re going to shoot me straight. I didn’t think it was that massive of an injury to where I needed to step in and take him out. In hindsight, I wish I would have given Michael (Fulmer) a better ramp to success. The bases loaded is not something that I anticipated after coming out of it.
“You learn a lot about your guys over the course of the year. I know Soto as well as any of them. I’ve had as many conversations with him as anybody. I believe him, and I think he was fine. At the end of the day, he could have escaped that outing or controlled that outing enough at the end. It was a dilemma, but at the same time, it can be difficult to grasp what the right move is.”
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With a runner on first base, Soto walked Francisco Mejia. The next batter, Brandon Lowe, connected with a slider for a single to center field, thus loading the bases.
“He assured us that he was fine, and then he walked the guy and then it looked like the spinner slider was not the same,” Hinch said after the 10-inning loss. “Lowe, who doesn’t handle lefties, stayed on it. With (Yandy) Diaz and (Randy) Arozarena coming up, I brought in Michael.”
Right-handed hitters Diaz and Arozarena are more productive this season against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers, which is another reason why Hinch turned to the Fulmer instead of sticking with Soto in the high-pressure situation. (Diaz hits .288 vs. lefties and .235 vs. righties; Arozarena hits .293 vs. lefties and .257 vs. righties.)
Therefore, Fulmer inherited the bases-loaded, no-out jam.
Diaz’s two-run single and Arozarena’s sacrifice fly evened the score, 4-4, and sent the game to extra innings.
“I don’t know how the result would have been if Michael comes in at that point or if I leave Soto in during the bases-loaded jam,” Hinch said. “Welcome to managing. It’s part of it. Where our team is at and what you’re trying to accomplish, I love that Gregory wanted to stay in the game. When I took the ball away from him, he went to the dugout and watched his teammate.”
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Brett Phillips crushed Tigers reliever Bryan Garcia in the bottom of the 10th inning, smacking a walk-off three-run home run over the right-center wall. After tossing his bat toward Tampa Bay’s dugout, Phillips extended his arms like an airplane and celebrated his way around the bases.
Game over: 7-4 Rays.
“We’re judged on results even more so than process, especially from the outside in,” Hinch said about managing. “When it doesn’t work out, you question everything. If you want to know a manager regret, it would be the lack of path of success for Michael on the back end. If I was going to use him, I probably could have used him right out of the gate and made the ultra conservative move of taking Soto out of the game. If that blows up in your face, then I should have left him in.
“That’s managing in 2021.”
Jose Cisnero throws
Before Saturday’s game, right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero lightly tossed the ball in pregame warmups in front of Teter and Fetter, doing so for the first time since his injury. He isn’t available to pitch, but it’s a step in the right direction in his return from a right elbow laceration.
He landed on the 10-day injured list Tuesday, retroactive to Monday, and is eligible to return Sept. 23, as long as he is healthy and ready to pitch.
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Cisnero, 32, has a 3.65 ERA with 31 walks and 62 strikeouts over 61⅔ innings in a team-high 67 outings.
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.