In case you weren’t aware, the Texas Rangers have a new closer in town to enforce law and order in the ninth inning. And while this “gunman,” Joakim Soria, has the reputation to get the job done, the two-time All-Star has struggled with health issues that had him on the brink of retirement only a year ago.
Joakim Soria, soon to be 30, slammed the door for the Kansas City Royals from 2007 to 2011, notching 160 saves and fanning 341 hitters over 315 innings. But in the spring of 2012, the ace reliever left the game after experiencing pain in his right elbow. An MRI revealed damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm, the same injury the Mexican suffered in 2003 when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. That meant Soria would have to undergo a second Tommy John surgery, putting his career in jeopardy.
Performance incentives that kicked in from previous seasons with the Royals allowed Soria to receive a guaranteed $6 million for 2012, which was welcomed financial security during his initial period of recovery. Kansas City brass would later buy out the remaining years of Joakim’s contract, however, making him a free agent for the 2013 season. The Rangers were one of the few teams that came calling.
Knowing that then-closer Joe Nathan would be around for at least another term in the bullpen, Texas General Manager Jon Daniels inked Soria, damaged goods and all, to a two-year deal on December 3, 2012. The contract was back-loaded in anticipation that the investment would take time to produce dividends. Sure enough, Soria wouldn’t make his first live appearance until June 20, 2013, a rehab assignment at the double-A level. All went well, and in his return to a big league mound on July 11, the veteran breezed through an 11-pitch inning against the Houston Astros.
“It was an amazing feeling to get out there again after such a long wait,” recalls Joakim. “I worked really hard so I was just trying to enjoy it.”
Soria would appear in 26 more games for the Rangers last year, most in a set-up role in preparation for events that would follow during the offseason. It came as no surprise when Nathan, 39, decided to become a free agent and sign with the Detroit Tigers for $9 million. Soria would battle and win the closer gig out of spring training and make $5.5 million for 2014, giving Texas more flexibility to sign Prince Fielder. And while the Rangers, Prince and Joakim all got off to modest starts, Soria has settled in with a perfect, 7-for-7 in save opportunities.
For all his success, Soria has never been a closer who relies on a specialty pitch, like a Mariano Rivera cutter or a Trevor Hoffman change-up. He’s a crafty reliever who changes speeds, mixing a tailing two-seam fastball with sliders and slow curves to keep batters off-balance. He also is known to work both sides of the plate, and has a big fan in Rangers skipper Ron Washington.
“He (Soria) may not have the velocity, but he knows how to close games,” notes Washington. “I’ve said that all along.”
Now that he’s back on top after multiple struggles with injuries, Soria is thankful for another shot and makes one believe that good things happen to good people. Once dubbed the “Mexicutioner” because batters feared him, Soria has long since shunned the nickname out of concern for the drug cartel violence in his home country. As a teammate in Kansas City as well as Arlington, Soria has always been respected and known for his positive vibe. The truth is that while baseball has been a big part of Soria’s life since he was a little boy, nothing has ever been more important than family and faith.
In a recent Tweet he posted in Spanish that I will translate, Soria reflected on the journey of life :
“You ask for miracles? First there must be problems for miracles to exist. If God is with us, who is against (us).”
Those are interesting words of wisdom from a man who has overcome adversity.