SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) -Joakim Soria has gone from unknown to Kansas City closer in a year.
Soria came into the Royals camp last year as an anonymous Rule 5 draft pick who had never pitched above Class A.
This year, he is in camp as the closer after saving a team-leading 17 games last season - more than any other rookie.
``It was a big year for me last year,'' Soria said. ``I had to prove myself.''
While Octavio Dotel was on the disabled list most of April and May, Soria logged 10 saves. When Dotel was traded to the Atlanta Braves on July 31, Soria went back to finishing games and got seven more saves in the final two months.
Soria is not the typical closer with a 95 mph fastball.
``I don't throw that gas,'' the 23-year-old right-hander said. ``But I have the confidence. I believe in myself.''
Manager Trey Hillman also believes in Soria, who throws a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.
``He's not afraid to throw to contact,'' Hillman said. ``He has just enough life on the fastball and deceptiveness to the delivery that it plays out faster than it actually is on the radar gun. ... When you put all those things together, it makes it very difficult to continue to get good swings off of him.''
Royals scout Louie Medina found Soria pitching in the Mexican winter league after the 2006 season. He recommended the Royals select him the Rule 5 draft after the San Diego Padres left him off their 40-man roster. Two days after the Royals picked him, Soria threw a perfect game for Obregon against Hermosillo.
``He handled spring training very well last year,'' Royals pitching coach Bob McClure said. ``He had command. He had aptitude. But I didn't know where he would fit in.
``He pitched his way on the team. He's more like the Todd Jones type (of closer). He has the aptitude, good stuff and command.''
Given a full season as the closer, Soria could earn 35 to 40 saves.
``Would it surprise me, no,'' McClure said. ``All I know is the job he did last year was enough for us to say, let's do it again.''
Notes: LHP John Bale will start the Royals' exhibition opener Wednesday against the Texas Rangers. RHP Luke Hochevar, the top pick in the 2006 draft, and RHP Brian Lawrence, who pitched for the New York Mets last year, also are slated to pitch against the Rangers. ... LHP Jorge De La Rosa and RHP Brett Tomko are scheduled to start in a Thursday intrasquad game. ... Rookie shortstop Angel Sanchez was held out of workouts with a groin injury.

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