All was going smoothly for Alex Faedo a couple of minutes into Friday night’s game at Marchant Stadium’s Publix Field.
He had gotten the Tampa Tarpons leadoff batter, Diego Castillo, on a pop-up to third base. Now he zeroed in on No. 2 batter Estevan Florial.
That down-and-in change-up seemed not to have flummoxed Florial, who drove it on a line over the right-field fence.
That 2-0 fastball he threw Brandon Wagner, Tampa’s No. 3 hitter, also got torched, this time for a homer beyond the right-center field wall.
But, of course, this was Faedo pitching for the Lakeland Flying Tigers in Friday evening’s Opening Night duel. And because he is 22 years old and last June was the Tigers’ first-round draft pick (University of Florida), it was no news-jolt when Faedo put away the Tarpons through the remainder of his five-inning start, with no more hits, no walks, and four strikeouts in a game the Flying Tigers came back to win, 6-5.
“Started a little rough, but the team bounced back,” Faedo said during a Saturday conversation as he reviewed his first professional game — and first official baseball exposure since he and the Gators won last June’s College World Series.
“I felt like I was able to work with all three pitches, which helped. They had a heavy lefty lineup, and they had a nice approach. The three pitches helped keep them on their toes.”
Those three pitches are straight from Faedo’s Florida portfolio: fastball that motored at 90-92. A killer slider, which is his out-pitch. And a change-up that minded its manners.
“He did an excellent job,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president of player development, who watched Friday from his Publix Field perch. “Sure, there were some jitters. It was his first time in a regular (professional) game, and he did a real nice job once he got it together. His pitches were efficient, and he shows good poise and patience.”
Faedo is one of those box-office prospects the Tigers have begun to transplant into a needy farm system. It was a matter of his celebrity, including the fact Faedo is from Tampa, which explained a bigger-than-normal crowd, about 1,000, for a Flying Tigers game.
“Very cool to see good attendance there,” said Faedo, who is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. “It was a big confidence boost. I think in that first inning I was maybe a little lackadaisical out there. But then the fans got behind me after the first, and during that second, third, and fourth, I could tell the crowd was getting back into it. After they hit those couple of balls, I got my mind back into it and got my tempo.”
If his fastball wasn’t overly impressive in terms of raw velocity, an irked Faedo says everyone should relax.
“People are very judgmental,” he said. “They said the same thing after my knee surgeries (arthroscopic, on both knees in September of 2016) when I took a couple of months off throwing.
“So, it’s almost now like the start of last year when I was in the low 90s, but hiding the ball, and still getting outs. It’ll be the same this season as it was last year when I knew, personally, as the season went on I’d get more comfortable.
“The more innings I pitched, the more the fastball came back. Taking seven months off (since last season) – maybe some people can just jump back into it. But I’m used to throwing. I know how it will go. I’m not worried at all.”
In fact, Faedo’s fastball was just fine during the College World Series when he was dubbed the tournament’s Outstanding Player after blowing away 22 batters on strikes in 14⅓ innings.
He even got the save in Florida’s championship game, after which he learned the Tigers had drafted him in the first round, 18th overall.
Faedo figures to be part of an overall uptick in the Tigers’ farm fates in 2018.
Whether it was Mike Gerber’s bat in Toledo’s first two games, or Beau Burrows with a heavyweight start in Double-A Erie’s opener, Eudris Idrogo with a gem for Single-A West Michigan, or Austin Sodders with a fine second-night stint for Lakeland, the Tigers farm should be different, perhaps vastly different from the past decade’s crops when prospects were few and those who did show life often were traded.
Among opening acts from the Tigers’ kids’ clubs:
Gerber’s hot start
He was 3-for-4, with a home run, double, and walk, in Friday night’s first-game victory at Louisville, then followed up with another double, as well as a single, in Saturday night’s 4-3 loss. Gerber is playing center field, and helping in right, while batting second in new manager Doug Mientkiewicz’s lineup. Count on seeing him in Detroit in 2018.
Other items from Toledo’s early games:
■ Christin Stewart slammed a homer Friday as he looked much like the man who has hit 58 homers spanning the past two seasons in the Tigers’ hatchery.
■ Ronnie Rodriguez, Gerber, and second baseman Dawel Lugo are Mientkiewicz’s first three hitters and were the offense’s firebrands in Toledo’s first duels.
Erie’s arms shine
It was Beau Burrows in Thursday’s opener: five innings, one hit, two walks, six strikeouts. Then it was Sandy Baez: 10 strikeouts in 4⅔ innings, with only one walk, and three hits allotted Friday. Saturday, it was Spencer Turnbull’s turn: 4⅔, four hits, one run, seven strikeouts, one walk.
The net result: a 3-0 start for new SeaWolves skipper Andrew Graham.
Sergio Alcantara, who was part of last summer’s trade that sent J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks, is playing shortstop and hitting the ball hard as the Tigers look to him as perhaps one of 2018’s potential plus stories.
Jake Robson, the young Canadian center-fielder, has been bashing from his leadoff spot. And so has muscle-man Gabriel Quintana (two homers), a right-handed slamming first baseman, only 25, who was signed as a minor-league free agent from the Rangers’ system.
Arms, arms, arms
More crisp pitching at the high Single A stop as Sodders followed Faedo, putting together six innings that featured four hits, two runs, seven strikeouts and zero walks. Sodders, a left-hander, had a terrific 2017 and has added punch to his fastball.
Also burning the ball for the Flying Tigers: right-handed reliever Eduardo Jimenez, who later this year should be journeying to Double A.
On the stick side, it was a strong start for leadoff man Cam Gibson, for No. 3 hitter Daz Cameron, and even for right-fielder Jose Azocar, who shows signs of chopping down his strike zone and stinging the ball.
Moving on up (soon)?
He is 22, which is advanced for low Single A, but he also is a left-hander, which means Idrogo gets all the time necessary. He had a lovely first outing for the Whitecaps: five innings, three hits, one walk, five strikeouts. He allowed the only run in a 1-0 tumble Saturday that was West Michigan’s first game of 2018.
It’s early on the farm, of course. But some tendencies should be season-long in a system begging for enduring good news.