Three-batter limit? Tigers reliever Stumpf says MLB worrying about wrong issues

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Daniel Stumpf

Lakeland, Fla. -- The Tigers' Daniel Stumpf, though he has been successful in the role of a situational lefty, has never for a minute thought of himself as just a one-out pitcher.

Which is why he couldn’t care less if baseball wants to institute a three-batter minimum on relief pitchers.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a manager that thought of me as that,” Stumpf said. “There’s been a lot of times when they’re like, ‘You know, we were going to keep you in there, but we had a guy ready.’ Now, if they made it a three-batter thing, that would just take the guessing out of it.

“It’s not an issue.”

The three-hitter minimum for relief pitchers was part of the recent dialogue between the players’ association and commissioner Rob Manfred. At this point, it seems doubtful that change would be implemented for 2019.

Which, to Stumpf, is the wrong discussion anyway.

“I think they are trying to focus on too many things with rules changes,” he said. “Pace of play, we need to put a clock in, mound visits, no DH, facing at least three hitters. Stop worrying about all of that and start worrying about all the free agents we have still on the market.

“That’s a real issue. That’s getting ridiculous.”

Getting to know you

Tigers new shortstop Jordy Mercer has played 772 games at shortstop for the Pirates over the last seven seasons. In that time, he’s been partnered with just two second basemen – Neil Walker and Josh Harrison.

He could get work with as many as five second basemen with the Tigers in the next two months alone.

“I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “To only play with two second baseman my whole career and they’ve been very good ones. But I am excited for this, you know. It’s a new opportunity, a new challenge.”

The Tigers are essentially staging an open audition for the second base spot this spring. Niko Goodrum, Dawel Lugo and Ronny Rodriguez, plus non-roster invitees Gordon Beckham and Brandon Dixon, are all going to get reps. Goodrum, Rodriguez and Dixon are also in the mix for a utility role.

“It’s not like a (hard) process, but you want to get to know the person, what they like, what they don’t like, where they like the ball, where they don’t like the ball,” Mercer said. “Once we dive into more spring training stuff, we will figure it all out.

“I will have some conversations with Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) and figure out what direction he’s going to go.”

Live and learn

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice … Blaine Hardy isn’t going to let that happen again.

There have been times the last two seasons, most harmfully for him last spring, when the Tigers’ versatile lefty tried to pitch through persistent pain in his shoulder and elbow. Last year, he waited too long to treat the problem and it ended up costing him a roster spot – at least temporarily.

Blaine Hardy

“We’ve already discussed it,” he said on Wednesday, before he threw his fourth bullpen this spring. “If we get to the point where I feel it’s going to digress and be where it was last year – we aren’t going to even hesitate to get that cortisone shot.

“I got that cortisone shot in my shoulder at the end of last spring and my shoulder felt great all year.”

So far, Hardy said his arm feels good – vastly better than how it felt at the beginning of last spring.

“At this point last year, I was trying to push through it,” he said. “But the velocity just never came back. I had the cortisone shot and three days later, my arm is like, ‘Oh, hey, welcome back.’ But right now, comparing each bullpen to the previous one – everything is progressing the way it need to be.”

The Tigers are hopeful Hardy can reprise the flexible role he provided last year, doing everything from spot starts, to long relief to situational late-inning work.

Fulmer's hearing 

Right-hander Michael Fulmer was scheduled to have his arbitration case heard in St. Petersburg Wednesday. The panel will decide whether Fulmer earns $3.4 million (his asking price) or $2.8 million (the team's) this season. He is the first Tigers player to go to arbitration since 2001.

Earlier on Wednesday, the arbitration panel ruled in favor of three starting pitchers -- Trevor Bauer, Garrit Cole and Alex Wood. Fulmer's ruling wasn't immediately known.

Twitter @cmccosky