Arlington, Texas — No regrets.
Right-hander Drew VerHagen, after missing most of last season with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, went to the Tigers toward the end of spring training and asked them to let him return to being a starting pitcher.
Manager Brad Ausmus, former pitching coach Jeff Jones and current pitching coach Rich Dubee, think his stuff, especially his ability to get ground ball outs, plays better out of the bullpen.
But VerHagen felt the best way to get back to being himself on the mound was to be stretched out as a starter — even though that meant he'd be forfeiting any chance of making the big-league club out of spring. If he was going to start, it would be at Triple-A Toledo.
“I’m happy I did that,” he said. “I got back to being myself on the mound.”
But that’s over now. VerHagen accepts his reality now. If he’s going to pitch and have success in the big leagues, it’s going to be in a relief role.
“Yeah, I think right now that is the case,” he said. “I like being in the 'pen. So if that’s where they want me, it’s good with me. I want to pitch up here.”
VerHagen made two starts filling in when Michael Fulmer went on the disabled list. He gave up two runs in five innings in his first start, then six in 3.2 innings in his last start. It was after that start that Ausmus decided two things:
VerHagen was going to stay on the roster when Fulmer got back, and that he was going to work out of the bullpen. Bruce Rondon was sent back to Toledo on Sunday.
“I talked with Drew the other day,” Ausmus said. “I said, if he wanted to be a starter, that was up to him. This is just one person’s opinion, but I think he’d be better in the bullpen. And he agreed.”
It wasn’t a hard sell.
“They’re smart, they’ve been in the game a long time,” VerHagen said of Ausmus and Dubee. “I respect Brad’s opinion. If he thinks this is where I’m best suited, I’ll go with it.”
Ausmus said he believes VerHagen can be effective both in long relief and also as the seventh-inning set-up man. His fastball velocity, when he pitched out of the bullpen in 2015, was up to 96-97 mph, and with his 12-to-6 breaking ball, he got a high percentage of ground balls.
He’s also added a slider to his arsenal, which remains a work in progress.
“It’s coming along,” he said. “It’s real good when I play catch and throw off flat ground. I need to be better off the mound. I’m trying to make it too nasty instead of just throwing it and trusting my grip.”
What a journey
In the span of a year, right-hander Jeff Ferrell has been injured, rehabilitated, released and re-signed by the Tigers.
But now he's back.
“It was a bit of a different year,” he said. “I was hurt, DFA’d, signed back. I just wanted to get healthy and show that I can pitch.”
He’s done that, going 3-1 with a 2.28 ERA at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this year. He pitched a scoreless inning on Sunday, his first big-league game since the end of 2015.
“I just needed to get some innings under my belt before I could start feeling better,” he said. “I basically took a year off, was hurt all year, and it took a while to get back in a groove. But once I did, I kind of felt it (click).
“I could feel it on the mound and it went from there.”
He finally got to the point where all he was thinking about was getting the batter out and executing pitches — not about how his shoulder felt.
“For guys like Ferrell, VerHagen, Joe Jimenez, they have an opportunity to prove they deserve to be on a major-league roster,” Ausmus said. “Really, the only guys in the bullpen with any kind of track record are Shane Greene and Alex Wilson.”
Miguel Cabrera missed his second straight game with stiffness in the right side of his back.
“He was originally going to play today,” Ausmus said. “But he texted me this morning and said his back tightened again.”
Cabrera will be evaluated again Tuesday. Ausmus explained that this is new pain — located on the right side, opposite the chronic issue he’s dealt with on his left side.
“The old injury was more in the (left) hip and can be fixed by realignment,” he said. “This is more muscle in the lower back on the right side.”
Ausmus said there was no plans to put him on the disabled list at this point.
Around the horn
Mikie Mahtook entered the game Monday tied with Mike Trout with the third highest batting average among all center fielders since July 14. His .343 average in that span is bested only by Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon (.398) and the Philadelphia Odubel Herrera (.384).
…Daniel Norris will make a rehab start for the Mud Hens on Wednesday.