Tigers sign former Mets reliever Bobby Parnell

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — A one-time Mets reliever whose 100-mph fastball became a trademark, as well as a torment for many big-league batters, has joined the Tigers, sources close to the negotiations have confirmed.

Bobby Parnell, 31, signed a minor-league free-agent deal Thursday, which includes an invitation to big-league camp, and was to be at Lakeland Thursday following eight seasons with the Mets.

Parnell had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the spring of 2014 and has been in slow, but steady, recovery that intrigued the Tigers as they attempt to further buoy their bullpen.

In taking a chance on Parnell, the Tigers are investing in a pitcher who had three standout seasons (2010, 2012, 2013) with the Mets when he had sub-.3.00 ERAs.  In those seasons, which spanned 153⅔ innings, Parnell struck out 138 batters.

Parnell was an infielder growing up in North Carolina but, because of his power arm, he became a pitcher in college at Charleston Southern University. His control was not a match for his searing fastballs, but the Mets made him a ninth-round pick in 2005.

Tigers' Saltalamacchia: �I�m where I need to be�

Once in the minors, with coaches gradually shaping a young man with a blowtorch for a right arm, Parnell took off. He reached the big leagues in 2008. During an Aug. 18, 2010, game against the Astros, Parnell threw a fastball at 102.5 mph, then the fastest-recorded pitch in a 2010 big-league game.

The mark lasted only a few days before Cincinnati rookie Aroldis Chapman hit 103.9 mph.

In a June 29, 2011, relief appearance against the Tigers, Parnell challenged superstar Miguel Cabrera with seven consecutive fastballs that exceeded 100 mph.

Parnell’s days with the Mets began dwindling in 2014 when he blew an Opening Day save. The next day, doctors discovered Parnell had torn his ulnar collateral ligament. He soon had Tommy John surgery and missed the remainder of the 2014 season.

He returned to the Mets in 2015 and pitched in 30 games. But his recovery had been sluggish and Parnell had a rugged season. Parnell had a 6.38 ERA and 1.96 WHIP.

The Tigers, however, believe many Tommy John recoveries require closer to two years. And in a bid to add more relief depth, they had been trying earnestly in recent weeks to sign Parnell.

While he relies mightily on his four-seam fastball, Parnell also throws a knuckle-curve. He has experimented with a split-finger pitch, but for now sticks with the fastball that led to a long stint with the Mets, and with a second breaking pitch.