March 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Tom Gage: Tigers Insider

Tigers hoping for many g'days from Australian pitcher

Sydney native Brad Thomas' pro career started when the Dodgers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1995. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News)

Lakeland, Fla.

The kid's not talking about shrimp on the barbie yet, but it can't be that far off.

"Before long, I might be calling everybody mate," Tigers rookie Jacob Turner said.

And saying g'day.

All because Turner lockers next to Brad Thomas in the Marchant Stadium clubhouse.

And because he chats with Thomas at length every day.

That's Australia's Brad Thomas, left-handed pitcher.

Thomas isn't the first Aussie hopeful the Tigers have had. But he's the first who has a legitimate chance of making the team.

He's not a lock. But the Tigers thought enough of him to lure him away from the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, which is where and for whom Thomas thought he was going to play this season.

"They were not happy when they learned I was going elsewhere," Thomas said.

Trying to make a statement

Thomas is no stranger to the major league scene. He's no stranger to the Japanese baseball scene, either. Or the Korean scene. Not to mention the Venezuelan winter scene.

He can speak Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and sitting across from fellow reliever Fu-Te Ni in the clubhouse, he might be able to add a few words of Mandarin Chinese before long.

Some of that, however, depends on how long Thomas lasts -- or if he lasts. And whether it's Ni's job he takes. They're both left-handers, after all.

For now, though, in the first week of exhibitions, Thomas is in the same position he's been in with other organizations: He has to prove he can pitch.

And, frankly, despite having a World Series ring from his brief time in the Red Sox organization (at Triple-A Pawtucket) in 2004, Thomas hasn't ever had success in the majors.

Thomas pitched in parts of three seasons with the Twins, the last in 2004. He pitched an entire season at Triple-A Tacoma (Mariners) in 2007.

But he's been successful elsewhere.

He saved 31 games for his Korean team (Hanwha Eagles) in 2008 and had two solid seasons before that with the Nippon Ham Fighters, who won the Japanese Championship Series during his time there.

One more shot at MLB

Thomas didn't grow up playing baseball. He grew up playing soccer -- and like many Australians, enjoying the ocean.

He had just turned 11 when Kirk Gibson hit his World Series home run off Dennis Eckersley in 1988 for the Dodgers -- and that's his first memory of the majors.

Because Thomas has pitched in just 11 major league games, the Tigers signed him for less than Hanshin would have paid. The Tigers, though, are eager to see if he can help.

"I like the way he talks," manager Jim Leyland said.

Leyland, however, likes more than that about Thomas.

"He has a big arm," Leyland said, referring to Thomas' fastball, which, at 98 mph, might still be the highest velocity a left-hander in the Japanese League has ever thrown.

That wasn't yesterday, though. It was a few years ago, and Thomas is 32. This could be his last chance at a bullpen spot in the majors. He doesn't have time on his side like Turner.

When Turner finally says g'day, Thomas doesn't want to be saying g'bye.

By the numbers

15-17-1: Spring training record in 2009

15-14-2: Spring training record in 2008

21-10-2: Spring training record in 2007

18-15-1: Spring training record in 2006, Jim Leyland's first year as manager

Well traveled

Here's a look at Tigers reliever Brad Thomas' pitching statistics during his pro career (he's been in the majors three seasons, 2001, '03-04 with the Twins):

Level Games Starts W-L ERA Saves
Minor leagues20717161-584.012
Major leagues1150-39.890

Johnny B. Good

Tigers left fielder Johnny Damon is entering his 16th season in the majors, and he hasn't stuck around by accident. How Damon, 36, ranks among active players in key statistical categories:

Category No. Rank
Stolen bases3743
Total bases3,68713
Home runs20754
On-base pct..35564*

* Minimum 3,000 plate appearances


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