Notes: Soria filling in nicely as closer

Notes: Soria filling in nicely as closer

TORONTO -- It's often said that the hardest outs to get in any baseball game are the last three, the ones that nail it down in the ninth. On Tuesday, rookie Joakim Soria made those outs look easy.

The 23-year-old Mexican, plucked from the Padres organization with the second pick in last winter's Rule 5 draft, struck out three batters in two perfect innings for his first career save.

That was a welcome performance for a Royals team trying to get by without projected closer Octavio Dotel, who is currently working his way back from a strained left oblique muscle. Dotel is currently rehabbing in Arizona and is more than a week away from being ready to go. In the meantime, manager Buddy Bell will mix and match with his bullpen.

"From day to day without a closer we're not really sure what we're doing, to be honest with you," Bell said. "We'll pretty much go with the hot hand."

Stretched out by Tuesday's outing, Soria won't work Wednesday, with David Riske likely to pitch in a save situation. But Soria's strong showing made him a candidate for future chances.

"He's done a great job for us from day 1," said Bell. "We're still finding out about him but he's got good stuff, man. He's tough, he competes. We're lucky to have him."

Jason La Rue, who caught Soria's stint on Tuesday, said he's been impressed with the young pitcher's poise.

"He's got unbelievable stuff," said La Rue. "The best thing about him is he's got great foresight out on the mound. He's got an idea of what he wants to and he sticks to his game plan."

Armed and dangerous: Much has been made of the tough pitchers the Royals faced in their first seven games. A string of starters like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jeremy Bonderman and A.J. Burnett made life rough on the Royals.

"These guys are sometimes labeled as one, two and three starters," said La Rue. "The guys that we've faced our first week, pretty much every one of them was a number one starter for any team."

Those pitchers made it a tough start for Alex Gordon, whose first career homer on Tuesday snapped an 0-13 slump and was just his second hit of the season.

"I was kind of frustrated just because I hadn't been getting the hits I wanted to," Gordon said. "You've got to stay patient and stay positive and it'll come around."

Bell agreed that it was tough for his prized rookie to face big-name pitchers but said it was also a good measuring stick.

"There's a fine line," he said. "To be a really good Major League player you have to be able to hit guys like that."

After a pause, Bell laughed and added another thought.

"I wouldn't want to face them."

Given that Gordon is such a highly touted prospect, Bell said opposing pitchers know who they're dealing with and react accordingly.

"I don't think there's any doubt they know," he said. "In most cases guys don't know guys who come up from the Minor Leagues but I can guarantee you that the guys who are pitching out there so far know who Alex Gordon is"

Gordon's teammates shared in the smiles after his first homer. Outfielder David DeJesus said it was "like a breath of fresh air."

Best of all, said DeJesus, the newly battle-hardened Gordon won't be shy the next time he faces the same tough pitchers.

"He saw them, he's got the pace of these guys already. He'll know next time how to attack them."

A better bounce? Kansas City played its third rubber game in as many series on Wednesday. After losing series against Boston and Detroit the Royals were hoping the bounces would go their way this time.

"The most important thing we've done is, pretty much every single game we've given ourselves a chance to win," said La Rue. "Obviously we haven't won a series yet but here we are in the same predicament tonight."

Road work: Tuesday's win was Kansas City's first away from home this season and it came much faster in 2007 than in 2006. The Royals lost their first 12 road games last season before beating Minnesota 1-0 on May 4th.

On deck: The Royals begin a three-game series against Baltimore on Thursday, the middle stop on a 10-day trip. Gil Meche (1-1, 4.40) will take the hill for the Royals. Veteran Steve Trachsel (0-0, 4.05) gets the call for the O's. Game time Thursday is 6:05 CT.

John Peak in an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.