Gregory Soto's rocket arm could be weapon in Detroit Tigers bullpen
KANSAS CITY, Missouri — It's not just about how fast Gregory Soto throws his fastball out of the bullpen. It’s the mentality behind it.
“More of the same,” Detroit Tigers catcher John Hicks said. “But I think him out of the pen is a good mindset.”
Soto, the Tigers’ rookie left-hander, who started seven games this season before being moved to the bullpen, opened more eyes in relief with three scoreless innings against the Royals in the second-half opener on Friday night.
Soto’s night began by getting hit by a comebacker, which deflected off his leg and into shallow left field. It was the only hit he allowed before dominating the Royals the rest of the way, retiring eight straight on mid-90s fastballs.
“His fastball was really good,” Hicks said. “Hard. Action. None are straight.”
Soto’s fastball velocity doesn’t tick up significantly in relief, Hicks said, but, “it plays better for him out of the pen.”
Internally, the Tigers agree with Hicks, and given how far behind his secondary pitches are behind his explosive fastball, a permanent move to the bullpen — where the team can dream on him becoming a high-leverage lefty — could be on the horizon this offseason.
Of course, despite manager Ron Gardenhire announcing Friday that Soto will pitch out of the bullpen for the time being, it doesn’t mean Soto won’t be called upon to make a spot start on the Tigers' injury-riddled starting rotation. .
“We’ve said that he can be one of those guys. We’re not nullifying the fact that he could be a starter," Gardenhire said. "All we’re doing is we’re putting him out there right now to get innings in and help us through a few situations like that and keep him stretched out as best as we possibly can so we see where we’re at.
“But we like him in that role. He can come in and throw 96, 97 mph and I think you saw that tonight.”
A bullpen lefty with that velocity is a weapon. And two years after being named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year as a starter in 2017, the Tigers appear to be leaning thatway with Soto’s future.
Soto, 24, has posted a 7.24 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in nine games with the Tigers this season. It’s been a rocky introduction to the major leagues, as he has tried to work without refined breaking balls.
“But as much as we need starting pitching, we’re not just sitting here saying, ‘He’s only going to be that,’ ” Gardenhire said. “He’s only been going three innings a start, too. He needs to develop his pitches and we think by stretching him out in the bullpen, maybe he can find a breaking ball and get back to starting.
“He’s got some good stuff. Power arm.”