Tigers sign LH reliever Tom Gorzelanny to one-year deal

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Sticking with their trend of adding multiple, affordable bullpen options in 2015, the Tigers on Tuesday signed a one-year, $1 million deal with Tom Gorzelanny, a 32-year-old left-handed reliever who for the past three seasons has pitched for the Brewers.

The Tigers cleared space on their 40-man roster by designating for assignment right-handed reliever Luke Putkonen.

Gorzelanny, who earlier pitched for the Pirates, Cubs, and Nationals, had solid numbers during his time in Milwaukee. But offseason shoulder surgery after the 2013 season trimmed him to 23 appearances for Milwaukee in 2014, all after he rejoined the team in mid-June.

"We've liked him for years," said Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers general manager who grew up not far from the Gorzelanny home in south suburban Chicago, and who shares with Gorzelanny a number of acquaintances. "We tried trading for him several times. Any time we looked for left-handed relievers, he was on the list."

Reached by phone at his home in Iowa City, Iowa, Gorzelanny said Tuesday the Tigers were an easy and appealing choice.

"Ever since I've been following and playing the game, I've been a fan of the Tigers organization," said Gorzelanny, who pitched at Triton College and the University of Kansas before the Pirates made him a second-round pick in 2003.

"They do good work over there. There are good people around there. They called and said they wanted to get something done, so it was a no-brainer. They're a great team capable of winning a World Series.

"Who doesn't want to be part of that?"

Gorzelanny was a free agent whom the Brewers appeared to have little interest in pursuing even after left-handed reliever Zach Duke signed a free-agent deal with the White Sox.

That might or might not have been related to Gorzelanny's past shoulder ills and to a fastball that had lost significant velocity by the time he returned to the Brewers bullpen in June.

But by the end of 2014, his fastball had reclaimed some of its earlier zip, Gorzelanny and Dombrowski each insisted.

"Let's exclude last year, but my four-seam is normally 88-93 (mph)," said Gorzelanny, whose two-seam sinker is perhaps his primary pitch. "I absolutely think it will come back. There were times during the season when it was there. And now, with a full offseason to recover, I think I'll be fine.

"Right now, I feel as good as I have in a long time."

Amen, said Dombrowski.

"Early in the year, when he first came back, the velocity wasn't there, but by the end of the year he was getting it back," Dombrowski said. "He'll average 88 to 92 and he's got a deceptive delivery. And he's got a solid breaking ball (slider) and a change.

"He's also started for the Brewers, so he's a guy who can get lefties and righties out. He's been valuable wherever he's been."

Even after surgery removed a bone spur in his left shoulder and tidied up the labrum and rotator cuff, Gorzelanny's work in 2014 was statistically impressive: 0.86 ERA, 21 innings, 22 hits, 23 strikeouts, eight walks.

Gorzelanny's has a career ERA of 4.27 in 10 big-league seasons. But his numbers have been particularly sharp the past three years, beginning with his final months at Washington.

Gorzelanny's ERA digits since 2012: 2.88, 3.90, 0.86. His WHIP has been less consistent, with the past season's shoulder issues likely contributing to a 1.43 mark. His WHIP in 2013 was 1.27 (43 games) and 1.32 in 2012 (45 games).

The Tigers have stayed away from high-profile reliever signings and trades since their 2014 season, marked by another year of bullpen issues, ended three months ago.

They brought on Alex Wilson, a right-hander, in a December trade with the Red Sox, and later claimed via waivers another right-hander, Josh Zeid, from the Astros. They now have added Gorzelanny, who could be viewed as a replacement for Phil Coke, a free agent who is not expected to re-sign with Detroit.

Dombrowski acknowledged the Tigers have been taking a less grandiose approach to forging a new, more secure, bullpen in 2015.

"Yeah, I think so," he said. "There were a lot of guys we liked (2014-15 offseason), but the reality is we already had a couple of high-priced guy in (Joe) Nathan and (Joakim) Soria, and when we picked up Soria's option, it basically eliminated the high-priced guys we could pursue."

Dombrowski expects Wilson and Gorzelanny, as well as some potential rookie arms, to reinforce a relief corps that will reunite with Al Alburquerque, as well as with Bruce Rondon, whom Dombrowski said Tuesday was expected to be ready for the regular season's start after healing from last March's Tommy John surgery.

Putkonen, 28, was not a complicated choice for the Tigers as they made room for Gorzelanny's roster spot. Putkonen is a hard-throwing right-hander who once was looked at as a potential plus in long or short relief. But he had arm issues in 2014 and pitched in only two games.

Gorzelanny explained that he would be in for another new experience in 2015: his first look at Comerica Park. None of the teams for which he has played has ever visited Detroit.