Detroit — This was always meant to be a toe-in-the-water experience for right-hander Sandy Baez, so it's doubtful his impressive debut (4.1 innings of scoreless, hitless relief) Monday will change that.
The Tigers called him up from Double-A Erie to serve as the 26th man on the roster for the make-up doubleheader against the Yankees. Most likely, he soon will be sent to Triple-A Toledo — where he was going to be promoted this week anyway.
“He’s not going to be (here) for the long-term,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before Game 1. “He’s going to be here, maximum three or four days. We just know what the expectations are for Baez. We want to keep him developing.
“But it’s good to have him up here. We get a chance to see him. And with our bullpen, you need a little velocity, and he’s got that.”
Baez, who was in big league camp this spring and impressed with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball and splitter, had a 3.90 ERA at Erie. He’s held hitters to a .214 average with 24 strikeouts in his last five starts.
“Since I was a little kid, this has been my dream,” said Baez, through translator and Tigers coach Rafael Martinez. “I thank God for this opportunity.”
Baez, who grew up in the same region of the Dominican Republic as Tigers lefty Francisco Liriano and Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, said the development of his third pitch, his slider, has hastened his ascent through the system this season.
“I’ve been working very hard on the slider,” he said. “The coaches have told me I needed to develop a third pitch. I can command the slider much better now.”
That this visit to the big leagues will be a short one didn’t seem to bother him at all. In fact, he seemed to take as a validation of the organization’s faith in his ability.
“I am ready for whatever decision the organization wants to make,” he said. “I am ready. I work hard every day just waiting for the call. I believe the organization believes in me and believes in my talent.”
If they didn't before, they do now. He became the first pitcher in the Tigers' history (and the sixth in MLB history) since 1908 to throw at least 4.1 no-hit innings in his Major-League debut.
Technically, Liriano, who is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, can be activated Tuesday. But that’s not likely to happen.
“We’re still talking about a hamstring,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got a plan, we’ve got a date. But coming off a hamstring you have to be careful. You want to put a guy back in there because he throws a great bullpen; all of a sudden we throw him right into a major league game — he hasn’t covered first base or any of that stuff.”
Gardenhire said there have been discussions about a possible rehab start for Liriano before he is activated.
“We’ve had conversations about sending him out for a rehab, maybe three or four innings, so he can move around and cover first and see some live action,” Gardenhire said. “It’s always dangerous when you take a guy with a hamstring and put him back out there without getting him in game situations first where the adrenaline is flowing.”
Liriano threw a bullpen Monday and said he was on track to be back by Tuesday.
The start against the Yankees in Game 1 on Monday wasn’t likely to be a one-and-done for Tigers right-hander Drew VerHagen. He is out of minor-league options and already has been designated for assignment once this season.
The Tigers would have to release him again if they wanted to send him back to Toledo.
So, there could be some juggling of personnel next week.
VerHagen, despite his rocky outing, probably will stay in the rotation and start Saturday against Cleveland.
Right-hander Artie Lewicki, who has pitched well in long relief, will make a spot start Tuesday. Liriano and Jordan Zimmermann are probably at least a week or more away from coming off the disabled list.
Both Lewicki and VerHagen could return to the bullpen, which will send two relievers back to Toledo.
“We’ll just let it play out,” Gardenhire said. “The games will dictate what we have to do.”
Tigers sign Tazawa
The Tigers took a flier on veteran right-hander Junichi Tazawa on Monday, signing him to a minor-league contract.
You might remember Tazawa from his Red Sox days, especially from the 2013 ALCS, when he pitched in four games against the Tigers.
But he will turn 32 on Wednesday, and things have not gone well for him the last couple of years. With the Marlins last year and this year, he’s posted a 6.57 ERA and 1.566 WHIP.
Presumably, he will need to go to Lakeland to work himself back into shape before reporting to Toledo.
Two players the Tigers designated for assignment last month have been re-signed. Pitcher Gerson Moreno, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, was signed to a minor-league deal. Infielder Pete Kozma was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.