Lakeland, Fla. — The first start of the spring belongs to – right-hander Tim Melville.
"I am very excited and kind of honored," said the 25-year-old who will get the ball against Florida Southern on Monday at Marchant Stadium.
So who is Tim Melville? Fair question.
First of all, he's quite a humanitarian. In 2012 as a member of the Royals organization, he won the Mike Sweeney Award after he joined a search party that ultimately located a lost 9-year-old autistic child.
Melville was spending the offseason in Richmond, Virginia, when he heard the boy had wandered away from his family in a remote, wooded area. The search, which drew national attention, lasted six days when the boy was found.
"Luckily he was found safe and alive," Melville told reporters at the time. "The next day the temperature dropped 20 degrees, so it was a blessing. It was an amazing story."
He is also a former high school phenom, ranked the No. 1 prep prospect by Baseball America in 2009. But for various reasons, not the least Tommy John surgery, which cost him most of the 2013 season, he never advanced past Double-A with the Royals.
"Like any other minor leaguer, just getting through the system, maturing and learning the small things about the game," he said. "Last year was a battle every day. You just keep telling yourself it's all a process."
He has struggled with his mechanics and command throughout his career and, after pitching in just 10 games in 2012 and four in 2013, endured a 2-11 season at Double-A, with an ERA approaching 6.00 and 1.639 WHIP.
"But I stayed healthy all year," Melville said. "My velocity was good and my stuff was good. The scouts must have taken notice because I got invited to camp."
The Tigers like his arm and surprisingly, they haven't felt the need to tinker much with his mechanics.
"His delivery was pretty solid," pitching coach Jeff Jones said. "He was coming back from Tommy John. Usually when a guy comes back from Tommy John, they are in and out."
Melville, who pitched a strong live batting practice session Friday, said he would gladly listen to any mechanical suggestions the Tigers might have.
"They have basically just been refining what I had," he said. "I feel like I finished strong last year and the Tigers do, too. So they haven't tweaked me much yet. But I am open-minded to anything they see because they've developed a lot of pitchers I want to be like. I will take any advice they've got."
If things go well this spring, Melville could be ticketed to pitch at Triple A Toledo this season,
"I am just really excited about the opportunity to start fresh with a new team," he said. "I am just looking to perform and show what I have. I feel healthy and ready to roll."
Manager Brad Ausmus said starting Melville against Florida Southern and lefty Kyle Lobstein Tuesday against the Orioles will help set up his regular rotation.
"Those are two of the guys we have earmarked as starters," Ausmus said. "It's also about making sure our primary five starters get the right number of starts."
Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky