The growing concern regarding Royals closer Joakim Soria escalated sharply Sunday afternoon when he left a game against Cleveland because of a sore right elbow after another ineffective performance.
“Oh, yeah, I’m worried,” he admitted. “Since I’ve had my Tommy John surgery (in 2003), I’ve never had anything like that. I don’t feel it’s that bad because before the Tommy John surgery, all of my strength went away. This time, it hasn’t.
“So I don’t feel like it’s that.”
Even so, it’s ominous — particularly since Soria has little resembled his previous All-Star form in four spring appearances. The Royals characterized the injury as “soreness in his right elbow” and said he would be reevaluated within a couple of days.
“That’s a concern,” manager Ned Yost acknowledged. “No doubt, it’s a concern, but you can’t get crazy concerned until the doctors evaluate it and see where we’re at.”
Soria’s injury occurred shortly after the Royals announced right-handed reliever Blake Wood will be shut down for 10-14 days because of soreness that surfaced Saturday night in his right elbow in an appearance against San Diego in Peoria, Ariz.
Soria exited Sunday’s game after yielding three runs on three hits and a walk while making just 16 pitches in a 6-4 victory over the Indians at Surprise Stadium. Until Sunday, Soria had insisted he was healthy.
“I was feeling real good,” he reiterated. “I was feeling strong. I worked hard throughout the off-season to be ready. It all just happened today. I don’t know what is going to happen (next). I have to wait and talk to (the doctors) and see what they’ve got for me.”
This much is certain: Soria, 27, has yet to exhibit his once-dominant form in seeking to rebound from a disappointing 2011 season. He has now allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings over three appearances in Cactus League games.
That doesn’t count a disappointing outing against Texas in a “B” game that saw him yield three runs and six hits in two innings. He has spent extended time this spring studying tape in an effort to recapture his once near-invincibility.
“Obviously, I wasn’t finishing my pitches,” Soria said. “I didn’t have the command that I usually have…maybe that’s what’s been going on in my other outings.”
The Royals have at least two viable closer alternatives, in Greg Holland and Jonathan Broxton, if circumstances force them to replace a struggling Soria at the back of their bullpen.
Broxton, 27, recorded 58 saves for the Dodgers in 2009-10 — and was picked for the All-Star team in both seasons — before missing nearly all of last year because of an elbow injury that required surgery in September.
The Royals eased Broxton through the early weeks of spring training to avoid putting a strain on his elbow but now believe he is ready for regular duty.
“I like what I see,” Yost said. “He’s a guy who has tremendous stuff, and he commands the ball down. You can see how he was an All-Star closer in years past. He’s a power pitcher with command.”
Holland, 26, established himself as a reliable bullpen weapon last season when he compiled a 1.80 ERA in 46 games. He also finished last season as the club’s primary setup reliever and backup closer.
“His delivery is clean,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “He’s repeating it, and he’s convicted with every pitch. It spring training, but he’s right where he needs to be. He’s under control, he’s repeating his delivery and he’s focused. What more can you ask for?”
Holland had not permitted a run – and only one hit – in four previous outings before yielding one run and two hits in one inning Sunday against Cleveland.
Soria is grasping for answers. When asked what happened, his initial response was: “That’s my question.” He inherited a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning but immediately surrendered a line-drive single to Lonnie Chisenhall before walking Lou Marson.
The Indians loaded the bases on Jason Kipnis’ bunt single before Asdrubal Cabrera pulled a two-run single through the right side. Shin-Soo Choo’s grounder to the right side resulted in a force-out at second base that scored another run — and finished Soria.
“I threw a curveball to Choo (on the next-to-last pitch),” Soria said, “and I felt it real bad. The next pitch, I threw a fastball, and it was real bad.”
Soria signaled to the bench at that point, which brought Yost and trainer Nick Kenney to the mound. After a short conversation, Yost signaled to the bullpen for Tim Collins. Soria and Kenney departed directly for the clubhouse.
“We didn’t see anything until he called me out,” Yost said. “He’s been feeling good and feeling strong. He had his normal warm-up (today) and felt fine.”