For Soto, Tigers, ‘the best is coming next year’

Detroit Tigers

SEATTLE — The Tigers began their season six months ago with a walk-off single to right field in the ninth and a 5-4 game, so maybe it was fitting they closed their season with the same, this time in Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the Mariners at T-Mobile Park. But the final inning as a whole seemed like a microcosm of the season.

Even with nothing at stake but pride and Draft odds, the Tigers competed to the end, taking a fifth-inning lead on a Javier Báez RBI single before tying the game again in the seventh on a Riley Greene single. With a 4-4 game in the ninth, Detroit turned to Gregory Soto, like it has so many times all year.

When a one-out walk, a Soto throwing error and a wild pitch moved Seattle’s winning run to third base, manager A.J. Hinch dug into his bag of strategies and moved in rookie right fielder Brendon Davis to be part of a five-man infield against Mariners rookie left-handed hitter Jarred Kelenic.

“Just for old time’s sake,” Hinch quipped. “Kelenic is going to have to pull [a ball against] Soto, which is one of the harder things to do. Strategically, that’s one of the fun ones, despite the fact that your back’s against the wall and in the most vulnerable position imaginable when you have to put a fifth guy in there.”

Five pitches later, Soto had walked Kelenic to load the bases, and Davis — who had swapped gloves in the dugout for the five-man infield — swapped again to go back to right field for Ty France, whose ensuing ground ball tucked inside the first-base line and past Spencer Torkelson for the winning run.

The Tigers’ third consecutive loss at T-Mobile Park closed their season at 66-96. They’ll have the sixth-best odds in the first-ever MLB Draft lottery this offseason.

Soto became the sixth pitcher in AL/NL history — and the second in the last 43 years — to finish with 30 saves and 11 losses in the same season. Just three of those losses came in save situations. The other eight came when entering a tie game or when he was eligible for a comeback win.

“It’s too bad, because it doesn’t really show what he can do or how he can do it,” Hinch said. “The volatility of that role is tough, especially on the road when you have walk-offs like that. I hate that his season ended that way. Obviously, he’s an important figure in the bullpen for us. I think it’s important that we get to the offseason and cleanse ourselves — certainly from the last couple losses, but more importantly just the overall vibe.”

Soto said through Tigers bilingual media coordinator Carlos Guillen that he will focus on the positive side: the saves total.

“That’s the thing that will make the balance at the end of the season for me,” Soto said. “I don’t want to focus on anything negative.”

Asked if this is the best version of Soto, he didn’t need translation.

“No,” Soto said directly. “The best is coming next year.”

He clearly has company in that regard. Báez finished the season leading the Tigers in most cumulative offensive categories, including 27 doubles, four triples (tied with Greene), 17 home runs and 67 RBIs. But despite a strong finish, he clearly expected more.

“I’m not really happy with my numbers,” Báez said. “I had a pretty hot month of September and October, but still, it’s not like I was helping to get [the team] back on track or make the playoffs or anything like that. I was just playing hard and took a lot of pressure off of me. That’s something that I need to do the whole year.”

It’s not just players who expect more of themselves than what showed this season, but also Hinch, who just suffered his worst record as a manager.

“I don’t love losing. I’m not good at it,” Hinch said. “I don’t respond all that well to it. But I am the leader, and so I have to stand up and defend what we’ve done right and challenge us on the things we’ve done wrong.

“Everybody’s looking forward to this postseason, and there are going to be a number of teams that are playing. In my stomach, I hate it that we’re not one of them. We had aspirations to make the playoffs and be more of a factor, and the bottom line is we haven’t done it because we haven’t played well. I take it personally.”

Articles You May Like

Astros 4, Tigers 1: From feast to famine
Tigers vs. Braves Game Highlights (6/18/24) | MLB Highlights
AL Central Notes: Crochet, Clevinger, Wacha, Lange
Tigers 0, Braves 7: Tigers shut out in rough afternoon outing
Senator Mark Huizenga Visits LMCU Ballpark Amid Construction Updates

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *