Joakim Soria said he wanted to rid himself of his spunky nickname before the 2011 season began.
Little did he know he would also lose his ability to throw strikes.
As the Mexicutioner has lost its cache, the precise accuracy and punch-out ability has fizzled off just as fast as the nickname.
Soria coughed up another Royals lead last night, entering in the ninth inning with his team ahead 3-2 before giving up two doubles and an Adam Jones walk-off home run.
Picking up his third blown save of the season, the usually reliable Soria has already matched his blown save total from the entire 2010 season. The problem has been command, and he’s already walked 10 batters in 19 1/3 innings as opposed to walking 16 in 65 2/3 innings all of last year.
"I've tried to figure out what I'm doing different from the last couple of seasons and there's nothing," Soria said, according to MLB.com. "I think I need to get confident in myself again and try to help my team win."
Royals manager Ned Yost will surely give his All-Star closer a long leash, but while the Royals don’t get many chances to win games to begin with, one has to wonder just how long that will last.
Soria has been astoundingly bad, allowing 11 earned runs this year to just 13 in each of the past two seasons. And his strikeouts are down to 6.1/9, after averaging well over a punchout per inning the last two seasons.
He insists nothing is bothering him physically, and manager Ned Yost echoed that, saying "If he wasn't healthy, he wouldn't be pitching. He's healthy."
Yost said he had not thought about removing Soria from the ninth-inning role, as to be expected for one of the most consistent closers in the game the past few seasons. But with his uncharacteristically bad performances this year pointing to a possible injury combined with the fact that he could be traded to a contending team as July rolls around, Soria has seen better days as a fantasy contributor.
He’ll likely have to blow a couple more games before the Royals either make up some mysterious left calf injury that sends him to the DL or give his responsibilities to someone else.
If that does happen, which wouldn’t be all that crazy, Aaron Crow appears to be the leading candidate to take over a job Soria has held consistently over the past four years.
A first-round draft pick in 2009 and native of Kansas, the 24-year-old Crow has not only done well in his first season with the Royals, but quickly earned Yost’s confidence as he’s pitched in high-pressure situations for most of the season.
Crow has pitched scoreless outings in 19 of 20 appearances this year, striking out 24 over 23 2/3 innings with a 0.76 ERA and .200 batting average against.
Interestingly enough, Crow was a starter in his first full year as a professional last season, striking out 143 batters in 163 1/3 innings with a 5.73 ERA between Single-A and Double-A.
But his success has quickly transferred to a bullpen role, and the tall right-hander hasn’t shown any reason why it can’t continue.
Expect Soria to keep running out there in the ninth inning, but he’ll have to turn it around fairly quickly before the Royals are forced to make a change.
Meanwhile in Oakland, the A’s are having issues of their own in the ninth inning. Brian Fuentes became the first pitcher to lose seven games before June 1 since Gene Garber did it in 1979.
After losing his fourth straight game Monday night, Fuentes sounded off to reporters about his displeasure with Bob Geren’s “unorthodox managing style” and poor communication. Fuentes was sent out for the eighth inning in a tie ball game vs. the Angels and promptly gave up the game-winning run, sending his season ERA to 5.06.
The next day, Fuentes was informed he’d no longer be the team’s closer going forward.
That’s what happens when you bad-mouth your manager to the media after blowing four straight games.
Grant Balfour will be the new ninth-inning man for the A’s, and the Aussie has been as good as advertised in his first season with Oakland. He’s struck out 26 batters over 21 2/3 innings with a 2.08 ERA and .192 batting average against, working mostly in the eighth inning.
While his role-reversal with Fuentes is allegedly just temporary, if Balfour has success as a closer, which he’s proven capable of doing in the past, he could take over for the time being, at least until Andrew Bailey returns from a strained right forearm, which could be soon.
But the A’s might want to work Bailey back slowly before running him out with the game on the line, and often it takes a few weeks before a relief pitcher returning from injury can throw comfortably on back-to-back days, leaving Balfour with some value for at least the short-term.