Anaheim, California — You hear it from those who knew him in Texas — teammates, front-office officials, media members acquainted with Joakim Soria.
A gentleman. A team guy. The opposite of a prima donna.
And you heard the same reports Thursday. Joe Nathan, who had worked with Soria during their days with the Rangers, testified to the general citizenship Soria is reputed to bring to a big league team, a sentiment shared by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, as well as by Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, who brought Soria to the Tigers in a Wednesday trade.
“We were doing research, checking with people who knew him, and everything was positive,” Ausmus said Thursday as the Tigers tuned for a four-game series against the Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. “There was not a bad checkmark on the resume.”
Ausmus acknowledged, as Dombrowski had explained during an earlier Thursday press conference, that the Tigers’ interest in Soria spanned weeks. Dombrowski had identified early that Soria might be available as the Rangers moved toward a seller’s mode ahead of next week’s trade deadline.
The Tigers went to work in tandem with their scouts. Soria’s four-pitch repertoire, highlighted by a mid-90-mph fastball and a curveball he considers his secondary out-pitch, was top-shelf, easily the most impressive package offered by any marketable reliever.
But the personal aspects of a man who could be with the Tigers through 2015 (he has a $7 million team option for 2015) also mattered, as they tend to do when Dombrowski shops for players.
“I know he’s a good clubhouse guy, and a good guy outside the clubhouse,” said Nathan, who will stick as Tigers closer, while Soria — at least initially — works assorted back innings. “He’s a gamer. A winner. He’ll obviously add depth to our ’pen and help get us over the hump.”
Where they were
Soria was at Yankee Stadium late Wednesday when he got the word from Rangers GM Jon Daniels that he was headed to Detroit.
Ausmus was sitting in the Phoenix airport, awaiting a flight to San Diego where he and his family have their primary residence. Dombrowski called with the news that the man the Tigers had steadfastly sought was now on Detroit’s roster.
Knebel was on the team flight to Anaheim when he got the word that his baseball life was changing dramatically for the second time in 13 months.
Knebel was drafted by the Tigers from the University of Texas in 2013, their second pick. Knebel was joined at the airport luggage carousel by Brian Britten, the Tigers’ director of team travel, who explained his flight arrangements as he joined his new team, the Rangers.
Nathan spoke Thursday about Knebel, 22, who is expected to become an essential part of the Rangers’ back-end relief corps.
“We’ll miss Corey,” Nathan said. “He’s a great guy. I had a chance to get to know him. Texas is getting a good arm.”
Back to business
Apart from Thursday’s trade commotion, the Tigers were keeping a particularly serious eye on their evening opponent, the Angels, a team the Tigers could confront in October’s playoffs.
Ausmus opted for a standard lineup Thursday after some re-shuffling at Arizona that had seen Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez drop a slot in the series finale against the Diamondbacks.
Cabrera was back Thursday at No. 3, with Martinez in his clean-up niche. And with the return of the designated hitter following three games at Arizona, third baseman Nick Castellanos returned to the order, batting sixth against high-powered Angels starter Garrett Richards.
J.D. Martinez, normally a No. 5 hitter for Ausmus, was again out of Thursday’s lineup because of a quad strain.
Tigers at Angels
First pitch: 10:05 Friday, Angel Stadium, Anaheim, Calif.
Drew Smyly (6-8, 3.80), Tigers: Pitched brilliantly last Sunday against the Indians, and will be hoping to reprise his ways against a volatile Angels lineup that includes right-handers Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
Tyler Skaggs (5-5, 4.65), Angels: Skaggs is a left-hander who allows his share of hits (102 in 102.2 innings) against 74 strikeouts and 27 walks. Skaggs is the kind of pitcher Detroit’s right-handed lineup tends to match up well against.