The fallout from another blown save lingered inside the home clubhouse Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium. As the afternoon began, the room was mostly quiet as the Royals prepared to face the Oakland A’s. Inside his office, Royals manager Ned Yost pondered the future of struggling reliever Joakim Soria.
Yost said he could not “abandon” Soria, though he also indicated that he would talk to the veteran right-hander after he made comments on Tuesday night that appeared to shift blame to his defense.
On the whole, Yost sought to explain his bullpen predicament after Soria blew his seventh save of the season in a 5-4 loss to the A’s on Tuesday night. The defeat was a decisive blow to a club with faint playoff hopes. But Yost tried to deflect some blame away from Soria, stating that a thinner bullpen has created a lack of options and alternatives.
“In the past, we’ve had a really, really good idea with what we’re going to get coming out of the bullpen,” Yost said. “(We had) a really good idea. Last year, we knew what we were gonna get with (Greg Holland), we knew what we were gonna get with Wade (Davis), we knew what we were gonna get with (Kelvin) Herrera, and we’re in a situation now, through injuries, we’re not the same bullpen we were last year.”
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The point, Yost said, was that the Royals lack the depth they once had at the back end of the bullpen, especially after losing Luke Hochevar for the season to thoracic outlet syndrome. Soria’s struggles have been well documented. But Yost suggested that the alternatives, outside of Herrera and a healthy Davis, are equally murky.
“To completely abandon him,” Yost said, “we don’t have that option.”
In many ways, the argument is valid. For most of the season, Yost has operated carefully with right-hander Peter Moylan, inserting him into situations where he can face right-handers. The same could be said about left-hander Brian Flynn.
The rest of the bullpen is largely unproven, and Davis has often been unavailable after battling a forearm issue in August. On Tuesday, for instance, Davis met with pitching coach Dave Eiland in the afternoon, reported some concern about his availability and Yost opted to give him another day of rest.
Yet all this did not explain why Yost did not simply stick with left-handed rookie Matt Strahm in the eighth inning on Tuesday. In the moments after Tuesday’s loss, Yost said he was opting for a platoon advantage. But Strahm has been dominant in a small sample size, while Soria has struggled for much of the season.
“He’s had a rough year,” Yost conceded. “The thing that’s so puzzling to him, he doesn’t really understand why. He feels good.”
While Yost spent much of Wednesday offering a defense for Soria, he pushed back against Soria’s comments that suggested the Royals’ defense should have been in a “no doubles” alignment during his blown save. Soria entered the game with runners at first and second before allowing a rocket to deep center field. In the moments after the game, he referenced a spate of poor luck this season.
“The whole season has been weird,” he said. “It’s been different. Broken-bat hits. Today, it was probably supposed to be ‘no-doubles defense’ and he gets a double right to the middle of the field. Overall, it’s a weird season.”
One day later, Yost clarified that the Royals were in the correct alignment. Soria was not present in the clubhouse before the game, thus he did not answer questions from reporters, but Yost said the Royals would never be in a no-doubles alignment with the tying run at second base. In fact, he said, they rarely use the strategy in home games.
“The defense was exactly where it was supposed to be,” Yost said. “We don’t play ‘no doubles’ in that situation. We never will. Again, he’s searching for answers; it’s a struggle for him. We play ‘no doubles’ off the hitter, not the base runner in that situation.”
Yost chalked up the postgame comment to frustration, which perhaps was understandable on some level. In nine big-league seasons, Soria has never produced an ERA this high (4.19) or suffered this many blown saves (seven). Yet in all likelihood, Soria will return to the Royals in 2017. He is entering the second year of a three-year, $25 million contract, and he is set to make $8 million next season. His struggles could make the bullpen a priority in the offseason, but those decisions will come later.
For now, at least publicly, Yost said Soria’s specific role will not change much. But first, Yost did plan to speak with Soria about the aftermath of Tuesday night.
“We’ll talk to Jack about it,” Yost said. “Again, I think it’s a lot of frustration.”