Lakeland, Fla. — One of them figures to be a core part of the Tigers’ down-the-road starting rotation.
The other has a shot at becoming one of those Curtis Granderson-like fixtures in center field.
And yet another of the Tigers’ evolving kid corps could end in left field, or as a designated hitter, or somewhere where a left-handed bat, with punch, figures to help a team reinventing its roster.
Alex Faedo, Daz Cameron, and Christin Stewart each had their seventh-inning moments Sunday in one of those often-crazy Grapefruit League games that for the Tigers and Pirates ended in an 8-8 tie at Joker Marchant Stadium’s Publix Field.
It was a split-squad contest in Lakeland and the home-field half of an afternoon that saw the Tigers beat the Blue Jays, 6-3, at Dunedin.
Faedo, who was the Tigers’ top draft pick last June, pitched what was shaping up as a nearly splendid seventh inning at Publix Field. Or, at least until Alfredo Reyes popped a long fly ball off the top of the left-center field fence that caromed onto the vacant turf and went down as an inside-the-park homer.
Faedo was pitching in his first professional game after the Tigers gave him last summer off to freshen his arm. The rest was required after a 6-foot-5, 222-pound, right-handed ace worked overtime in helping steer the University of Florida to last year’s NCAA championship.
His billboard pitch is a slider that can all but cross county lines and on Sunday sealed his first professional strikeout, against Logan Hill, who didn’t touch Faedo’s swerving serve that came on an 0-2 count.
“I know a pitching coach was pretty excited,” said Joe Vavra, who was managing the home team Sunday as manager Ron Gardenhire trekked to Dunedin with the traveling split squad.
Vavra was referring to Tigers pitching guru Chris Bosio, who along with 4,720 customers Sunday watched Faedo throw early-season fastballs mostly in the 92-mph range. But it’s Faedo’s slider right-handed batters have found to be diabolical.
“Looked like whiffle-ball out there,” Vavra said, and not only of the skidding third-strike pitch Faedo threw Hill. “They (Pirates batters) were swinging right through it.”
Cameron, who last month turned 21, offered a peek into why the Tigers wanted him badly as part of the Astros’ trade package last August that sent Justin Verlander to Houston.
With two strikes, Cameron, a right-handed batter, ripped a hard single to right field to score Stewart early in the Tigers’ six-run splurge.
Stewart, who was a first-round pick in 2015, had gotten the rally rolling when he swatted a one-out single to right. He has hit 58 home runs in his past two seasons playing at Single A Lakeland and Double A Erie and earlier Sunday lashed a two-strike, opposite-field drive to the warning track in left.
“It all started with Stewart,” said Vavra, who is Gardenhire’s “quality-control” coach and who acknowledged that Sunday he was learning as much about the youngsters as anyone else at Publix Field.
But neither was it exclusively a day for greenhorns, even as another longtime Tigers farmhand, Jason Krizan, slammed a homer in the seventh that nearly became the game-winning run.
Nicholas Castellanos took a 98-mph heater from Pirates starter Tyler Glasnow and parked it deep onto the berm in left-center field in the second. Castellanos, who had a triple in Saturday’s game, just missed a pitch in his second at-bat Sunday and popped out to center field, spurring a frustrated bat-wave from a Tigers hitter who clearly is locked in early.
Vavra was most pleased with the way Shane Greene was firing pitches Sunday in his first game of 2018.
Greene will work as the Tigers closer this season, but inherited the fifth after the Pirates had taken an early lead, thanks to three unearned runs against starter Artie Lewicki.
Greene, who wasn’t necessarily wild about umpire Joe West’s strike zone, had a pair of walks, but also two strikeouts in a hitless, scoreless inning.
“Greene had good stuff,” Vavra said. “Inside cutters and sliders away.”
Lewicki was within a whisker of stitching together a pair of opening 1-2-3 innings until Dawel Lugo’s error led to three runs, all unearned.
Chad Bell pitched a scoreless two innings for the Tigers, while Drew VerHagen was tapped for a single but no runs in the sixth.
After the Tigers had put together their seventh-inning ruckus and 8-4 lead, rookie Kyle Funkhouser was popped for three eighth-inning runs. The Pirates tied it in the ninth against Zac Reininger on a single, followed by an RBI double on a ball that probably should have been handled in right-center.
“Just trying to get everyone involved,” said Vavra, who Sunday deployed 19 position players and nine pitchers. “For me, it’s fresh. It’s good energy.”
Blaine Hardy’s left throwing shoulder was wrapped in an icepack Sunday morning as he deals with tightness that surfaced late last week.
Hardy is a left-handed reliever the Tigers have been using productively for the past four seasons. He plans on a fifth year in Detroit, although this setback isn’t helping matters.
“I don’t know yet,” he said, trying to define precisely what had brought on the soreness. “After the ’15 season, I had some shoulder impingements. Just one day it kind of locked up.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the game,” he said, explaining that anti-inflammatory pills were part of the trainers’ treatments.
“The fact I’ve gone through it before, I’m not panicking,” he said. “But how long does it take to go away?”