Reliever Mujica unfazed by long odds with Tigers
Lakeland, Fla. — Edward Mujica has made nearly $16 million in his baseball career. He’s just four years removed from a 37-save, All-Star year in St. Louis. He’s pitched 10 big-league seasons with seven teams and in 11 post-season games.
So what was he doing riding Triple A buses for three different organizations last season — Philadelphia, Kansas City and finally Minnesota? It was the first time since 2005 he didn’t throw a single pitch in the big leagues.
And what’s he doing at Tigers camp, a non-roster invitee with only a puncher’s chance to win a roster spot?
Because he still believes he can get hitters out at the big-league level and the Tigers are willing to let him prove it.
“No, I never thought (my career) was over,” he said Monday after a short throwing session. “This opportunity — different team, different opportunity to show them I’m ready to go.”
It’s a no-cost, no-risk investment for the Tigers, who have also extended lifelines to veteran pitchers A.J. Achter, Collin Balester and Mike Zagurski. But only Achter and Mujica were invited to big league camp.
“Every opportunity is big for me,” Mujica said. “Being in Triple A all last year showing what I can do, this can be a big for me. Coming back, different uniform — it’s another chance to show them I am healthy and ready to go.”
Mujica will be 33 in May and he says his repertoire hasn’t changed since 2010. He throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90s, a split-fingered fastball at 86 mph and a slider.
“I do pretty much the same things,” he said. “Consistency in the strike zone, try to keep the ball down and get some quick outs. Just go out and do my job every time. Pretty much my control has kept me in this game.”
No doubt about that. His walk rate over 10 seasons is 4 percent. Last season in 57 Triple A innings, he walked just eight batters. He started the season well after being among the Phillies final cuts in spring training. He posted 23 saves for Lehigh Valley. He also ended the season well for the Twins at Rochester (one earned run in 62/3 innings).
But in between those stops was a forgettable nine-game stint in Omaha (11 runs in 12 innings).
“I know it’s about what I can do between those lines,” he said. “After that it is out of my hands. My job is to go out there and do my best. I look forward to this opportunity.”
Reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer was obviously thrilled when Jim Leyland told him he was on the Team USA roster for the World Baseball Classic. But he was also a little concerned about how the Tigers might react to it.
The plan for Fulmer, after his coming-out party last season where he threw a career-high 1741/3 innings, was to ease him back into things this spring. The possibility of starting a WBC game in the middle of March didn’t jibe with those plans.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do forever, obviously,” Fulmer said after his workout Monday. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I am really glad the Tigers are supportive of it.”
Fulmer is in the pitcher’s pool, which means he could be summoned in the second or third round. By that time, he figures he will be far enough along that it will be the equivalent of a second or third spring training start.
“When I found out about it, I talked to (pitching coach Rich) Dubee,” Fulmer said. “He just said we will still take it slow during the offseason. I took it nice and easy. Started a little later than normal. And I threw a lot more long toss before I got on the mound.”
He’s been working out in Lakeland for two weeks, throwing bullpens twice a week. But he hasn’t thrown his slider yet.
“Just fastballs and changeups,” he said. “Just working on my command, mostly, before I start spinning stuff.”
Around the horn
James McCann is a convert. He is among the growing number of Tigers’ hitters switching to Warstic bats — the company that second baseman Ian Kinsler and Detroit musician Jack White have invested in.
“I switched to it this winter and I like them so far,” McCann said. Daniel Norris, Justin Upton and Nick Castellanos also use Warstic bats.
… Tuesday if the official reporting day for pitchers and catchers, though most have been working out at TigerTown for several weeks. Position players have until Friday to report, but many have been working out here for weeks, also.
… John Hicks, likely to be the starting catcher at Toledo this season, put on a power show during on-field batting practice Monday. Hitting off manager Brad Ausmus on the turf field behind Joker Marchant Stadium, Hicks blasted two balls off and over the indoor batting cages beyond the left-center field fence.