Detroit – By bringing up left-hander Ryan Carpenter as the 26th man, and having him start the second game of the doubleheader Sunday night, the Tigers have managed to keep their rotation mostly intact.
“We’re just trying to get back to normalcy,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Michael Fulmer, whose start was postponed Saturday, started and pitched eight strong innings in a 1-0 loss in the first game. He was on seven days of rest. Carpenter, who had been pitching in minor-league games in Lakeland, was to make his big-league debut in the second game.
“He’s got the mix,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got the pitches to get people out up here. But it’s command of the strike zone. That’s the big thing we saw in spring training. He needs to command the strike zone better.
“If he does that, he’s got the stuff.”
Carpenter, 27, has spent the last two seasons in at the Triple-A level in the Rockies organization. At 6-5, he comes downhill at the hitters.
He has a deceptively firm fastball (91-92 mph) and a slow curve ball. But the pitch that rescued his career is a sweeping, 80-mph slider that he throws mainly to left-handed hitters.
“You could come up with 1,800 different things that could go right or wrong,” Gardenhire said. “I try not to rotate all that stuff into my brain. We’re just going to pitch him and let him go play baseball. It’ll be exciting for him.
“If he can calm down enough and throw it over the plate and give us a chance to catch the ball, he will be fine.”
Because of the postponement Saturday, the Tigers play six games over the next five days, so the 26th player addition was vital.
Veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was originally slotted for Sunday, will pitch on seven days of rest Monday against the Royals.
Lefty Matthew Boyd, also on seven days of rest, will pitch Tuesday.
Lefty Daniel Norris, who pitched in a minor-league game last Wednesday, will get the start this Wednesday. Gardenhire said Norris would be available out of the bullpen for both games on Sunday.
“I did long toss yesterday and had a bullpen two days ago,” Norris said. “I’m right on cue.”
The rotation could get another adjustment later this week when right-hander Mike Fiers (back) gets off the disabled list. Fiers flew back to Lakeland Sunday and was expected to pitch up to 70-75 pitches in extended spring training Monday.
“He will fly right back here,” Gardenhire said. “We will have to see how he does, but ultimately, we will slot him right back into the rotation.
As long as he gets his pitch count back up to 70 or 80 and everything is good with his back, we will slot him right in.”
Presumably, Norris would then be sent back to Triple-A Toledo.
It’s a bit ironic that the only hit that did damage against Fulmer Sunday came against his two-seam fastball (sinker).
Fulmer threw one to Gregory Polanco in the first inning that caught too much of the plate and it was spanked it into the corner in right field, scoring the game’s only run. That two-seamer was struck with an exit velocity of 112 mph.
The 41 other two-seamers he threw were struck with an average exit velocity of less than 80 mph.
“I thought he threw the ball great,” said catcher John Hicks. “His two-seamer was really good today. It’s impressive to see that kind of movement on a pitch going 94-95 mph.”
Cabrera web gems
The Tigers played superb defense behind Fulmer in the first game, first baseman Miguel Cabrera especially.
“He made some nice plays,” Gardenhire said. “The last one was a big one to keep the score right where it was.”
Cabrera robbed Corey Dickerson of a two-run single in the top of the ninth inning with a quick back-handed grab over the bag. That helped bailout closer Shane Greene who, in a 22-pitch scoreless inning, gave up two singles and a walk.
Earlier in the game, Cabrera took a double away from Colin Moran with a diving catch again going to his left toward the line.
“He can really pick it,” Gardenhire said. “He has really soft hands and when he has to dive, he will dive.”
Catcher Brayan Pena is serving, for now, as a player-coach.
He was reassigned by the Tigers late in spring training and offered a chance to be a coach in the lower levels of the organization.
“He hasn’t totally committed to being a coach,” Gardenhire said. “If somebody were to make a phone call (needing a catcher), he’s still working enough, taking swings, catching bullpens and all of that – just in case.
“He would really like to keep playing, but he’s also embracing this coaching thing and we are happy about that. He’s got a really good passion for it.”
Pena makes his home in the Orlando area. He would likely begin his coaching career with extended spring training and then later in rookie league.
Hicks’ big arm
Hicks continues to impress with his arm. He threw out three runners. In the first inning, he nailed Polanco at third base after the Tigers executed a flawless relay – from Nick Castellanos in right, to Dixon Machado, to Hicks. He also threw out Josh Bell at third base in the fourth inning and caught Adam Frazier trying to steal second in the ninth.