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Joakim Soria warmed up, then sat down. Then warmed up, then sat down.

All the while, the Tigers nursed a narrow lead against the Royals Saturday in a key game in a key series in a key time of year.

Soria's job was not to hold onto the lead. It was not to close out the game. It was not to earn the 179th save of his career.

Soria's job was to pitch if, and only if, the game was already blown. He stood warming up while Joe Nathan allowed runners, while Brad Ausmus did nothing in the dugout, while fans paced and somewhere a former manager smoked. But Soria did not play.

In July the Tigers traded for a closer, but they still don't know what to do with him.

Some of the blame falls on Soria, some on the left oblique muscle that betrayed him a week into August. The first three games he pitched in Detroit he allowed runners to score. He came from Texas with a 2.70 ERA, striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings while walking just one, but from the time he arrived here he did not appear to be that pitcher. He walked three in his first three appearances, failed to strike out any in his next three.

Then his oblique bit him and he was gone for a month. He's pitched in four games since.

His strikeout rate has fallen by nearly half while the rate of walks has nearly doubled.

And you want to make him the closer 10 games and 13 hits and seven runs into his time in Detroit?

If the Tigers don't know what to do with him, it's his fault as well as their own. But they need to try something new.

Soria has pitched in the seventh, he's pitched in the eighth, he's pitched in the ninth. But not as that roving fireman that baseball fans long to see.

Your closer doesn't have to be your best reliever, because the ninth isn't always the peak of the drama. Sometimes that comes earlier, the bases loaded in the sixth inning, the runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth.

Fail to execute in those situations and your closer may not stand up at all.

Three of four games this month Soria entered at the start of an inning. Sunday he saw action only after the Tigers trailed by three. There was no fire to put out.

One game Soria's closing, six days later he's mopping up. And in between, he completely disappeared.

For all the world it seems like the Tigers don't know what to do with him. That needs to change.

The easiest thing in the world right now is to demand Soria be named the Tigers' closer.

Yet for the most part Nathan has got the job done. He's blown just two saves in the second half. He's been better.

Naming Soria the closer would almost seem a waste in most games.

But this much seems clear: There's improvement to be found in the back end of a shaky Tigers' bullpen that seems to thrive on getting itself in trouble. You don't always have to let a reliever pitch out of the mess he got himself into.

Detroit brought Soria to Detroit to pitch at times like those.

Not to watch from the bullpen while the key moment passes.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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