Tigers' Bell finally gets long-awaited call to majors

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Chad Bell throws during spring training earlier this year.

Detroit – Chad Bell didn't hesitate. He was asked before the game Monday to describe his journey to the major leagues.

“Long,” he said.

Indeed. Bell, the left-handed pitcher the Tigers recalled from Toledo on Sunday, is 28 years old. He was drafted out of Walters State Community College (Morristown, Tennessee) in 2009 and had to pitch himself through the Rangers system not once, but twice.

“I had Tommy John (surgery) in 2013 when I was with the Rangers and it took me a little while to get back to where I was before,” Bell said. “It was definitely a year, more like a year and a half. I had to go through the Rangers system again.”

It took him three years to get to the Triple-A level before the surgery, and then three years to knock on that door again after the surgery.

“That was the tough part, trying to keep my mentality, keep that positive attitude,” Bell said. “I had moved up to Triple-A right before my surgery in 2012. And then in spring of 2013, I had the surgery. I was so close at that point – who knows, maybe just months away (from being called up).

“But keeping that positive attitude, trying to go through the rehab process. I had great people around me, veteran guys around me who helped me get through it.”

The Tigers acquired him from the Rangers last season, trading catcher Bobby Wilson back to Texas. He went 10-4 at Toledo with a 3.70 ERA and earned an invite to big-league camp with the Tigers this spring.

Bell's spring didn’t exactly go the way he wanted. After opening some eyes with his first outing – hitting 95 mph and throwing strikes – he struggled the rest of spring and was signed back to the Mud Hens.

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“It was really just getting back in sync with myself,” he said. “I was maybe pressing a little bit. My first outing in spring was pretty good, and then maybe you start pressing, trying to execute, trying to do things – not things you can’t do – but doing more than you need to.

“I’ve just had to get back to myself, just get back to the basics, attack hitters and try to get outs.”

Bell had to get back to throwing strikes consistently. And that’s exactly what he’s done. In four starts and 21.2 innings at Toledo, he has allowed just three earned runs, with 25 strikeouts and seven walks. His fastball will range from 91-94 mph, he also throws a breaking ball (half curve, half slider) and a change-up.

“Just throwing more strikes and attacking hitters,” Bell said. “Trying to work ahead, and my breaking ball has been more consistent. I’ve been able to throw all three of my pitches in any count I need to. If I get into a jam, I’ve been able to execute my pitches.”

Bell got the call on Sunday for a couple of reasons. The Tigers needed a fresh, left-handed arm in the bullpen since Blaine Hardy has thrown 46 over the last two days and would be unavailable Monday and probably Tuesday.

Also, Monday would have been Bell’s regular day to start.

“We like the fact that he’s left-handed against Cleveland, but it’s more about having length in the bullpen,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We have some guys we’ve used on back-to-back days and we’d like to avoid. He could go really long if we needed him to.”

Bell will have his wife, son, parents and a bunch of friends at the ballpark Monday – an event he’s waited a long time to share.

“The obvious answer,” he said, “it’s a dream come true.”

About Jimenez 

Bell took the place of right-hander Joe Jimenez on the roster. Jimenez was sent back to Toledo.

“Our message to Joe was, ‘Don’t think you have to go down there to prove to us you can get Triple-A hitters out,’” Ausmus said. “We know he can Triple-A hitters out. But there is a big difference between the big leagues and Triple-A.

“We just want him, first of all, to keep his (chin) up. Don’t let this bother you, having to go up and down twice in the span of about three weeks.”

More importantly, though, Ausmus said Jimenez needs to continue to refine his slider.

“That slider can be a difference-maker in terms of making the jump to the big leagues and sticking,” Ausmus said. “I’d be surprised if he didn’t get called back up, regardless. But the slider can take him from being just another major-league relief arm, to being a dominant relief arm, like he was in the minor leagues.”

Jones visits

The Mud Hens had an off-day Monday and center fielder JaCoby Jones took the opportunity to drive up to Detroit and work out with his teammates before the game.

He still has two more rehab games to get through, but he’s experienced no complications from his lip laceration nor any lingering fright from getting hit in the face.

“Everything was good,” said Jones, who has gone 2-for-10 at Toledo. “I faced mostly right-handers and I saw few pitches up and in. Nothing. No worries, I wasn’t scared at all.”

He also said he’s adapted well to the protective flap on his helmet that he will wear now.

“It didn’t mess with my vision and it didn’t aggravate me,” he said. “I actually kind of like it.”

Barring any setbacks, Jones will likely travel with the Tigers on their West Coast trip this weekend.

Briefly

J.D. Martinez (foot) returned to extended spring training action Monday. Ausmus said Martinez only hit and he didn’t play the field. He didn’t have any statistics.

But Martinez did foul a pitch off his left foot – not the injured one. X-rays were negative.

Twitter: @cmccosky 

INDIANS AT TIGERS

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Comerica Park

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1

Scouting report:

RHP Corey Kluber (3-1, 4.19), Indians: This will be his 19th start against the Tigers, who have hit him well over the years. They’ve hit more home runs off him than any team he’s faced (17) and their average (.271) is the highest among teams he’s faced six or more times. He gave up six runs against them last month in Cleveland.

RHP Justin Verlander (1-2, 4.60), Tigers: Same story here: the Indians have done more damage against Verlander than any team in baseball. His 4.68 ERA and 1.294 WHIP against them are the highest among Central Division teams. Verlander has fared much better against the Indians at Comerica Park, however.