Joba smacked around in Tigers' loss to Braves

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Joba Chamberlain delivers against the Braves on Monday.

Lakeland, Fla. — Leave it to the Tigers, who don't have a lot of choices these days, to make the most of Joba Chamberlain's rough day Monday.

Except it wasn't only Monday's game that has been rugged for a right-handed reliever the Tigers view as fairly indispensable to their back-end relief corps. The entire Grapefruit League season (8.22 ERA) has been a bit of a mess for Chamberlain.

"Joba is another of those guys who pitches on adrenalin," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after Chamberlain was socked for four hits, a walk, and a balk in a two-run inning that helped the Braves beat the Tigers, 4-2, at Marchant Stadium. "There's not a lot of adrenalin in spring training games.

"He was just up (high in the strike zone today). His arm was dragging on his breaking ball. He was jumping — getting out front."

Chamberlain agreed with his manager Monday. On every point, including that "adrenalin" business.

"That is my hardest battle — trying to get up," he said, speaking of spring camp's low-energy culture compared with the big leagues' voltage. "I do feed off it. It's something I have to work on all the time."

Of course, there aren't a lot of opportunities remaining, at least in Florida, to find that old jolt ahead of next Monday's Opening Day assignment against the Twins at Comerica Park.

That is, if Chamberlain makes the team. And he should. As much by default as by his track record, Chamberlain is a percentage pick to begin his second season with the Tigers. His manager conceded as much Monday. Sort of.

Asked if Chamberlain was a "lock" to crack the final seven-man relievers crew, Ausmus said: "As far as I know he is.

"With veteran players, spring training, I don't put a lot of stock in spring training."

The Tigers are staring at more of their annual bullpen issues. Bruce Rondon, a year after Tommy John surgery, has been throwing well but might require a few more days of rehab stints before he is summoned to Detroit.

Joe Nathan, who carries the title of closer, is fighting not only to retain his role but to show at age 40 he can still pitch big-league baseball. He worked one inning Monday, allowing two fly-ball putouts to center field, an infield hit, and a groundout.

"He threw some good two-seam fastballs," said Ausmus, sounding not a lot more excited than he had been in analyzing Chamberlain's day."

Angel Nesbitt also pitched an inning Monday, allowing one hit — a long home run by catcher Christian Betancourt. Nesbitt (3.27 ERA) is a rookie who likewise is favored to earn a ticket to Detroit when the team breaks camp this weekend.

Alfredo Simon throws to first on a pickoff attempt during the first inning Monday against the Braves.

Simon's mix

Alfredo Simon started for the Tigers and pitched adequately: six innings, five hits, one run, three walks, two strikeouts.

"Simon mixed his pitches well," Ausmus said. "He got behind some hitters but was able to come back."

Simon, who came to the Tigers in December's trade with the Reds, said: "When I was behind in the count, I just tried to throw my off-speed for a strike, and get the hitter off my fastball. That's my key."

Another Cespedes blast

The Tigers got six hits Monday, one a home run by Yoenis Cespedes that soared over the right-field fence. It was Cespedes' fifth homer in March. He also singled and is hitting .308 in Grapefruit League games.

Miguel Cabrera hit a ground-rule double to deep left-center that traveled a good deal farther than Cespedes' drive. But a quartering wind, which helped Cespedes' drive kept, knocked down Cabrera's high, arcing bomb, which cost the Tigers two runs.

Ian Kinsler also had a pair of hits, both singles, and drove in a run.