SEATTLE — It was only a few days ago that Joakim Soria scoffed at the idea of having the opportunity to close out a victory in the All-Star Game.
"That's a little bit impossible because you've got the great Mariano (Rivera) there," Soria said last Sunday shortly after being selected as the Royals' sole representative to the American League team.
"He's the one who is going to close the game. I don't now what my role is going to be."
Well, not so fast.
Rivera revealed late Tuesday that he plans to skip the All-Star Game because of a sore knee.
"I've been pitching hurt," said Rivera, who has 19 saves and a 1.08 ERA in 33 games for the Yankees. "It's something that we have to take care of."
That changes everything.
"It's too bad," Soria said, "because I like being around him and to be able to talk to him. What happens now is it's (AL manager Joe) Girardi's decision on who, if we're winning, will have the ninth inning. I would like to do it, of course."
Soria is one of four closers remaining on the American League roster. The others are Texas' Neftali Felix, Detroit's Jose Valverde and Tampa Bay's Rafael Soriano, who was added Wednesday as a replacement for Rivera.
The other three are each having terrific years.
Valverde sports an 0.97 ERA while converting 18 of 19 save opportunities in 37 appearances. Soriano is at 1.65 and has converted all but one of 24 saves chances in 33 games.
Felix has a 3.00 ERA while saving 22 of 24 chances in 37 games.
"They're all really good," Soria said. "You could take any of those guys, and you would be fine. But I would love to do it."
Soria leads the majors with 24 saves (in 26 opportunities) while compiling a 2.41 ERA in 33 games. Further, he is on a roll with a career-best 17 straight successful conversions.
History seems to favor Soria, too.
He has converted 92 percent of his saves opportunities (103 for 112) since becoming the Royals' full-time closer following the July 31, 2007 trade that sent Octavio Dotel to Atlanta.
The only closer in that span with greater success is Rivera at 94.3 percent (116 for 123).
Soria also has a 2.07 ERA since he became a full-time closer. Again, the only closer with a better mark in that span is Rivera at 1.73.
And Rivera isn't available.
Guillen sidelined — Jose Guillen didn't play Wednesday — didn't even work out — after suffering a grade-one muscle strain in the left quadriceps/hip flexor area Tuesday night while running out a ground ball.
Even so, the Royals remain hopeful Guillen could return to the lineup Friday when they open a three-game series in Chicago.
"We were hoping that it wouldn't be worse (when he woke up)," manager Ned Yost said, "and it's not worse. We'll just day to day with it. It looks like a grade-one strain, but he's a tough guy. We've got an off-day (today), and we'll see where he's at on Friday.
"It's in a spot, I think, where you can wrap it up and play, but we'll see."
A grade-one strain, while painful, is the mildest classification in that it involves tears to less than 10 percent of the muscle fibers. A grade-two tear involves 10-50 percent, and a grade-three tear is over 50 percent.
Guillen was the only Royal to play in all 84 games prior to Wednesday. He is batting .274 while leading the club with 14 homers and 52 RBIs. Billy Butler ranks second in both categories with eight and 44.
Wilson Betemit replaced Guillen as the designated hitter in the series finale against the Mariners.
Greinke says shoulder is "fine" — Zack Greinke reported no day-after problems in his right shoulder after tweaking it through an awkward movement in Tuesday's 3-2 victory over the Mariners.
"It's fine," he said. It's like (Tuesday) night. No problems and pain."
Greinke tested his shoulder by playing catch on the field prior to Wednesday's game.
The problem surfaced Tuesday in the third inning when Greinke came off the mound to field a sacrifice bunt. He broke initially toward third before reversing to field the ball on the first-base side.
Greinke took two practice throws before continuing but showed no problems in working through seven innings. He limited the Mariners to one unearned run and two hits while striking out two and walking one.
"My control was a little off after that," he said, "and I got tired a little faster than normal. Other than that, it was fine."
Plans call for Greinke to pitch Sunday in Chicago in the final game before the All-Star break. He will also pitch July 16 in the first game back after the break.
text ignoredIt was 21 years ago today - July 8, 1989 - that pitcher Dennis Leonard and outfielder/designated hitter Hal McRae became the sixth and seventh inductees to the Royals' Hall of Fame. The shrine now contains 23 members.