Tigers’ Warwick Saupold shakes off unexpected demotion

Chris McCosky

Detroit — Baseball can be a suffering business.

Mikie Mahtook will attest to that. The Tigers’ Opening Day starting left fielder is back in Triple-A trying to regain his swing in Toledo. Chad Bell will attest, as well. The left-hander has already been toggled back and forth from Toledo and back and will likely be again and again this season.

Right-hander Warwick Saupold thought he was finally off the shuttle. He established himself as one of the team’s more reliable bullpen pieces in the first half of last season and, after a shaky second half, reaffirmed it this spring.

And yet, after pitching 3.1 scoreless innings in four outings the first week of the season, Saupold was pulled aside after a game in Chicago on April 8 and told he was being sent back to Toledo to make room for starter Mike Fiers, who was coming off the disabled list.

“That was a bit of a tough one,” said the 26-year-old Australian. “I’ve been sent down a fair few times but this one was different. It threw me off and took me by surprise.”

It took him maybe 24 hours to shake off the sting, but by the time he reported for duty in Toledo, he’d realigned his focus.

“Once I got over the initial shock, I got down there and I had business I wanted to take care of,” he said. “I wanted to work my tail off and get back as quickly as possible.”

Twelve days, two short starts for the Mud Hens, and he’s back.

Saupold earned a save in the Tigers’ 12-4 win over the Royals Saturday, retiring the last seven batters in just 18 pitches.

“He was fantastic,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, who went into the game without the services of closer Shane Greene and veteran Alex Wilson.

Stumpf was called up on Friday and Bell was sent back. He’s been made no promises about how long he will stay this time.

“I just want to keep doing what I was doing before I left,” Saupold said. “The rest of it is out of my control. It was out of my control before, as well. I just have to keep going out there and get people out and see what happens.

“It is what it is. It’s happened to plenty of other people. I went down and did what I had to do.”

He made two starts for the Mud Hens. He threw 45 pitches on April 10 and 48 pitches in three scoreless innings on Monday. He hadn’t started a game since he was summoned to the Tigers early last season, but role designation is irrelevant to him at this point.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Whether I throw in the first or the seventh or eighth, doesn’t matter. I am happy to do whatever I can. I still think my stuff is better than it ever has been.”

That’s the kick in the pants, right there. Roster numbers and player movement sometimes is unaffected by a player’s recent performance.

It’s a suffering business.