Ryan has Tigers rethinking lefty options after latest loss

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Viera, Fla. — On a day when the established left-hander scuffled, an upstart lefty is making manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones rethink the configuration of the Tigers bullpen.

Starter David Price, making his second start of the spring, gave up four runs and four hits with two walks in two innings in the Tigers 9-2 loss to the Nationals.

Starter turned reliever Kyle Ryan pitched his fourth scoreless inning of the spring. He allowed just his second hit, but catcher Manny Pina immediately picked the guy off for the third out.

"We are still considering him," Aumsus said. "I really like his sinker against left-handed batters. He's got a shot to be real tough against left-handed hitters."

Before Wednesday, the presumption was Ryan was battling Ian Krol and Blaine Hardy for the second left-handed reliever role. Veteran Tom Gorzelanny is expected open the season as the primary left-hander.

Ryan, with his ability to gets outs against right- and left-handed hitters and to pitch multiple innings, has opened some eyes.

"Jonesy and I were talking during the game about the idea of maybe keeping three left-handed pitchers being a possibility," Ausmus said. "We really like what we've seen from him."

The numbers, though, still seem to be working against Ryan as a third lefty. If right-hander Bruce Rondon, coming off Tommy John surgery, is healthy to start the season, then Ryan's chances of making it seem greatly reduced.

Ausmus said closer Joe Nathan and right-handers Joakim Soria, Al Alburquerque and Joba Chamberlain are virtual locks, as is Gorzelanny.

If Rondon is healthy, then Ryan has to beat out Hardy and Krol for the second lefty reliever spot. If Rondon isn't ready, then he has to outpitch other right-handers in contention, like Buck Farmer, Angel Nesbitt, Joel Zeid, Luke Putkonen and Alex Wilson.

"The three lefties would give us more length," Ausmus said. "The right-handed guys in the mix are more one-inning guys."

Rondon is scheduled to throw in the Tigers split-squad game in Lakeland Thursday.

"He's in the same boat as Victor (Martinez) and Miggy (Cabrera)," Ausmus said. "The important thing isn't having him ready for Opening Day, it's having him for as much of the season as we possibly can."

There are three weeks left in spring training and Ausmus said that is plenty of time for Rondon to get ready — "if everything goes well," he said.

Price's day

We're guessing Price didn't hear from Sonny Gray after his performance here Wednesday.

Gray, A's pitcher and fellow Vanderbilt alum, taught Price his curve ball grip and after Price used it masterfully five days ago against the Mets, he sent him a congratulatory text.

Things didn't go nearly as well for Price against the Nationals.

"My cutter was OK, my change-up was down for the most part, and the curve, I couldn't really get a feel for that," Price said. "My fastball was up, but I made some good pitches with it as well. It's all part of the process."

Price threw 54 pitches in two innings in what was supposed to be a three-inning start.

"My body feels good," he said. "The first couple of starts of the spring, that's all you want to control. First and foremost, I want to feel good today and second, I want to feel good tomorrow. I just need to execute better, throw more strikes."

For a second start, Price's arm strength is ahead of what he's used to at this time of year. His fastball was hitting 94 mph.

"I haven't thrown that hard in probably a year," he said. "But I don't worry about velocity. I have to execute my pitches. It doesn't matter if you throw 92 or 102, if you leave it down the middle, it's going to get hit."

The first pitch he threw, to Wilmer Difo, was spanked down the third base line for a double.

Difo got him again in the second inning – hitting either a curve or a change-up deep to the gap in left center for a triple. Centerfielder Anthony Gose, who was shading Difo to right center, nearly ran the ball down.

Avilia pulled

It was a short day for catcher Alex Avila.

He started, struck out against Jordan Zimmerman in the first inning, caught a long, two-run first inning from Price and then was pulled.

The Tigers said he experienced stiffness in his back.He missed a couple of days earlier this spring with the same ailment.

"He said it wasn't as bad as last time, but he won't play (Thursday)," Ausmus said.

Avila was supposed make his debut at first base Thursday in the split-squad game.

Gose speed

Every game he plays, Gose does something exciting with his legs.

The Tigers were down 4-0 in the third when he hit a routine single to center. Gose does not apparently believe in routine singles. As centerfielder Derrick Robinson casually advanced on the ball, Gose kept running around first and sped into second — double.

Two pitches later he stole third base.

Then, on a fly ball to shallow left field, a ball the shortstop could have reached if he wanted, Gose tagged and scored relatively easily.

It's been a while since the Tigers have had that dynamic in their offense. Rajai Davis is probably a better base stealer, but Gose has better straight-line speed.

Gorzelanny on point

Gorzelanny came into his fourth spring appearance having yielded four runs, four walks and four hits in three innings.

Even though Ausmus has been steadfast that he wasn't worried about him, it had to be somewhat of a relief to see him pitch a perfect inning.

"It's still early," Ausmus said. "I've said it before, with guys who have track records in the big leagues, I will go more with that track record than spring training performances."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky