The Tigers had several worthy candidates, including relievers Michael Fulmer, Alex Lange and Andrew Chafin, but the left-handed closer — with 17 saves in 19 chances — received the honor.
“It’s pretty exciting for me and my family,” Soto said after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox. “I’m really excited to be there and perform for myself, my family and my team.”
Soto, who learned the news Sunday morning, is Detroit’s first back-to-back All-Star since Miguel Cabrera made seven straight Midsummer Classics from 2010-16. It’s the first back-to-back All-Star nods for a Tigers pitcher since Max Scherzer did it in 2013-14.
Soto is just the third Tigers reliever with back-to-back All-Star Games, following Jose Valverde in 2010-11 and Guillermo (Willie) Hernandez (who did it in three straight seasons) in 1984-86.
“I’m going to keep working hard,” the fourth-year player said, “so I can keep going and going to the All-Star Game.”
The American League and National League clash at 7 p.m. July 19 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. This is Soto’s second All-Star Game in his MLB career.
Soto, 27, entered Sunday with a 2.70 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 15 walks across 30 innings in 31 games this season.
His walk rate has improved, from 14.5% in 2021 to 11.9% in 2022, but he has already hit a career-high five batters. His strikeout rate has dropped from 27.5% to 24.6%. Soto, worth 0.4 fWAR, has a 4.23 expected ERA.
Soto earned the closer role after the 2021 season.
“There’s two parts of it,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s the stuff coming out of his hand, which is electric. It’s up to 100 (mph). He’s got the nasty slider. He’s now flirting with a four-seamer. He’s tough to hit, especially with the slide step when he jumps at the hitter a little bit.
“And then there’s the mentality to be able to handle it. Even though he can be a little erratic from time to time, he still maintains his composure and competitiveness. He’s a terrific teammate. … I love his approach to the game, and that’s why I keep giving him the ball at critical times.”
He will be joined by Cabrera and Willie Horton on the AL team. It’ll be the first time since 2017 — when right-handed starter Michael Fulmer and outfielder Justin Upton were selected for the game in Miami — that the Tigers will have multiple players in the summer showcase for baseball’s best.
“It’s going to be fun because him and me, we get along very good together all the time,” Soto said of Cabrera. “We have so much fun together. Being able to be with him, and with him being invited the way he was invited, it’s going to be such an emotional and fun opportunity.”
Cabrera is headed to his 12th All-Star Game in his 20-year MLB career, thanks to commissioner Rob Manfred adding the 39-year-old as an “All-Star Legends Selection.” (St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols is the “All-Star Legends Selection” for the NL team.) Horton, the longtime Tigers great, will be in uniform in the dugout thanks to AL manager Dusty Baker’s selection of him as an honorary coach.
Soto got three outs in the 2021 All-Star Game, on July 13, 2021, at Coors Field in Denver. He pitched the fifth inning but was tagged by Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, who blasted his 99 mph sinker for a 430-foot solo home run.
The AL won, 5-2.
“I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of veteran players and learn a lot of things, especially with the mindset,” Soto said. “I had a chance to talk to veteran players such as Aroldis Chapman. We had a good conversation about things.”
In 2022, the AL aims for its ninth straight All-Star Game victory.
This year also marks the fourth straight season in which the Tigers have sent a reliever as their primary representative. Right-handers Joe Jiménez and Shane Greene went in 2018 (Washington) and 2019 (Cleveland), respectively, then Soto in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 game, which was set to be held at Dodger Stadium.
The game returns to an AL park next year, with the Mariners set to host at T-Mobile Field in Seattle. The 2024 and 2025 games have yet to be awarded, and the 2026 game will be held in Philadelphia to commemorate the 250th anniversary of America’s founding.