Detroit — Manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if the signing of 29-year-old left-handed reliever Josh Smoker could be interpreted as a message to Daniel Stumpf.
“A message?” Gardenhire said before Saturday's 2-1 win against the Indians at Comerica Park. “I don’t send messages. I send emails…Left-handed pitchers who can get people out in the big leagues is a big thing. Stumpfer has had his struggles, we all know about that. But this is just another arm down at Toledo and we will see what happens.”
The Tigers claimed Smoker off waivers from the Pirates and assigned him to Triple-A Toledo. He was 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP at Triple-A Indianapolis. In seven games with the Pirates this season he was tagged for seven runs, 11 hits and five walks in 5.2 innings.
“We talked to Al (Avila, general manager) and we’re going to send him to Triple-A, let him start pitching down there and get him going,” Gardenhire said. “We’ll see how he does. He’s got a good arm, we know that. But will he throw it over (the plate)? That’s been some of the question marks.”
Smoker, a first-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2007, throws a 93-mph four-seam fastball and an 84-mph split-fingered pitch. He will also mix in a curveball.
Blaine Hardy, who made a spot start Saturday, and Stumpf are the lone lefties on the active rosters. At Toledo, Smoker joins lefties Hunter Cervenka (who hasn’t allowed an earned run in 12 innings) and Kevin Chapman (six earned runs in 15.2 innings) in the bullpen.
Stumpf, who gave up a pinch-hit, three-run homer to Brandon Guyer in Friday's loss, has a 1.9 WHIP in 21.2 innings this season.
To make room for Smoker on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated Warwick Saupold for assignment. Saupold, who lost his spot in the Tigers’ bullpen earlier this season, has struggled at Toledo (13 earned runs in 18.1 innings over seven games).
“He’s kind of scuffled through it,” Gardenhire said of Saupold. “He’s gone through a lot this year. But, you have to open up a spot when you sign a guy like (Smoker). Saup was the guy on the totem pole. If you’re not getting it done and you’ve been around for a while, they make changes.”
If Saupold clears waivers, he could be re-signed to a minor-league deal and stay at Toledo. He is the sixth player the Tigers have DFA’d this season: Hardy and Drew VerHagen worked their way back to Detroit, lefty reliever Chad Bell was claimed by the Braves, infielder Dixon Machado cleared waivers and re-signed back with Toledo, and lefty reliever Jairo Labourt is out of the rotation.
Machado, by the way, is hitting .296 with a .415 on-base percentage in 15 games with the Mud Hens.
Two other pitchers who were up with the Tigers this season have come off the disabled list and returned to the Mud Hens — lefty starter Ryan Carpenter and right-handed reliever Johnny Barbato. Barbato pitched a scoreless inning Friday night.