May 24, 2014 at 10:38 pm


Despite rough inning, Tigers' Corey Knebel still impresses in major-league debut

Detroit — Tigers rookie pitcher Corey Knebel didn’t get to make his major-league debut Friday in the victory over the Rangers.

But he didn’t have to wait long after.

Knebel, 22, a high draft pick juust last June, took the mound for the first time Saturday, with the bullpen needing a fresh arm to soak up some innings. After starter Rick Porcello left with one out in the sixth, Knebel entered and had all the emotion of being cheered by the sellout Comerica Park crowd of 43,447.

“That felt good, having them still give me applause after that was a good feeling,” Knebel said.

The Rangers weren’t quite as welcoming, getting a run in the sixth on Mitch Moreland’s RBI double and adding three more in the seventh on Rougned Odor’s bases-loaded triple — after Knebel gave up a pair of walks.

“I got behind a lot of hitters; I had to make pitches and they hit them,” Knebel said. “Definitely not walk guys — I did a lot of that today. I was pulling off my fastball and my curveball was a little loopy.”

It’s been a fast-track mentality for Knebel, who was drafted 39th overall out of the University of Texas. He made it through the minors to become just the second member of Major League Baseball’s 2013 draft class to appear in the majors.

Despite the results, manager Brad Ausmus was impressed with the outing.

“Every once in a while, he gets uphill and that’s when you see the curveball pop out of his hand and it ends up being more of a hanging curveball,” he said.

“When he stays on a downward angle toward the catcher’s mitt, he looks really good — obviously, he throws 93-95.”

Knebel said he was happiest with his first pitch, which was a 95-mph fastball for a strike to Elvis Andrus, who eventually bounced back to the Knebel for a forceout at second base. Moreland followed with the RBI double and Andrus scored, but the run was charged to Porcello.

Knebel ended the inning by getting Adrian Beltre to hit another comebacker and Knebel threw over to Cabrera at first base to end the inning.

He had his first strikeout the next inning.

“I came in here and it was a little tough thinking about everything and I was catching myself and said, ‘Don’t think of what happened — tomorrow’s a new day,’” Knebel said. “Today’s a little down but it’s nothing that won’t happen again.”

Swinging a bit

After an 0-for-22 slump, Andrew Romine had his first career home run Friday night. He followed that up with two more hits in Saturday’s 12-2 loss, on his first two at-bats.

Romine was maligned after his batting average slipped below .200, but is starting to bounce back with a surge at the plate.

“I’m trying to get a couple at-bats — whether it was a home run or a hard line drive — I was trying to get a couple under my belt to get comfortable and get my swing back,” Romine said before Saturday’s game. “It was tough stretch and hopefully it’s time to get out of it.

“Obviously they’re not looking at me to hit home runs or to drive in 100 RBI but if I can just get on base and play solid defense, I’m getting the job done.”

Romine had gone 235 at-bats without a home run, but when he finally got the blast, he started to hear from some old acquaintances.

“I keep in contact with friends back home in Southern California, so I see a lot of them. It wasn’t out of the blue but it was fun to hear from people that I grew up with or somebody that saw it on ESPN,” Romine said. “I have no idea (how many text messages) — they’re still coming in. A lot of people on the west coast are just seeing it now.”

Dirks update

Ausmus said Andy Dirks continues to do light baseball activities but wouldn’t give a timetable for when he might return. Dirks has been on the 60-day disabled list after lower-back surgery, effective March 29, but could return at some point in June.

“I remember easily doing some stuff he did — throwing and taking dry swings. You take some swings off the tee and soft toss, then it goes relatively quickly after that,” Ausmus said. “Once the doctors feel like you can rotate without any issues, it went relatively quickly from dry swings to batting practice and then rehab.”

Relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan also is progressing, throwing pitches off the mound and working on his arm strength. Ausmus said Hanrahan is increasing his pitch count off the mound but didn’t give a timeframe for when Hanrahan could join the Tigers.

Around the horn

Along with Romine, Austin Jackson also had a home run Friday night and seems to be putting together a good streak. Jackson added two more hits — a single and a double — on Saturday, raising his average to .266.

... Ian Kinsler went 3-for-5 on Saturday and improved his average to .333, which leads the American League.

Tigers rookie pitcher Corey Knebel gets the ball from catcher Alex Avila during his major-league debut Saturday. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News