Tigers' Ron Gardenhire puts Kaleb Cowart's two-way bid on hold

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Kaleb Cowart throws live batting practice during the Tigers' workout Tuesday at spring training in Lakeland, Fla.

Lakeland, Fla. — It’s a good storyline. The Tigers claim former Angels utility man Kaleb Cowart off waivers and give him a chance to make the team as a two-way player — infielder and pitcher — even though he hasn’t pitched since he was the scourge of the Georgia prep scene back in 2010.

A made-for-spring training saga if there ever was one.

Thing is, managers typically don’t give a rat’s tuches about good storylines. Their job is to assemble the best 25 players and try to win some baseball games. Which is why, at least right now, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire doesn’t want to hear about Cowart being a two-way player.

“We want him to get more involved in the pitching part of it right now,” Gardenhire said after practice Tuesday. “We know what he can do defensively. I am going to have that conversation with him. He’s asking if he can go over and do Good Morning America (intense infield drill). No! Not after you just threw a bullpen, you can’t.”

Cowart took part in all the infield drills Monday, making most of his throws from second base. He had thrown a regular bullpen Friday. On Tuesday, he was in full pitcher’s mode — stretching, long-toss, bullpen and then a 10-minute live batting practice.

Gardenhire doesn’t want him back out doing infield work Wednesday. There is a concern about wearing him out, especially this early in his retransformation to pitching.

“I want him to do more pitching stuff now,” Gardenhire said. “As we go along, we will see where it goes. But he’s going to pitch for now. That’s the main reason we brought him in.”

The Tigers nearly drafted Cowart as a pitcher back in 2010. But they hadn’t seen him throw to live hitters since then, until Tuesday. And as expected, he was rusty. His control was, to say the least, spotty.

“He threw one right at my face,” Gardenhire said, laughing. “He threw a pitch right over the hitter’s head and I was behind the screen. But it was right at my lips. I ducked and almost fell off the wheel.

“The ball came out of his hand really good, though. He has a nice breaking ball. But it’s going to be a process. He’s got arm strength, though. I know that.”

Attention to detail

Just two days into full-squad workouts, and Gardenhire has had his first mini-rant of the spring. He abruptly halted pitchers fielding practice on all three fields Tuesday.

“It was getting a little sloppy,” he said. “Miss a ball, pick it up nonchalantly. No. Play it like a game. That’s what I’ve told them a thousand times.”

The pitchers were doing situation drills. A runner on first, ball is hit back to the mound —field the ball and throw to second.  If the play isn’t made clean, adjust and get the out at first. Seeing pitchers quit on plays on each field, Gardenhire stopped the drills and made his point.

 “You see it all the time: a ball hits off a pitcher, they scramble over to it, barehand the ball and get their line to first base,” he said. “That’s what would happen in a game, right? We’re not doing that here. Start paying attention to detail. We’re playing it like a game.”

Too often Gardenhire was seeing the pitcher misplay the ball and then not hustle after it and try to get the out at first.

“You might as well get used to it now, we play a game in three days,” he told the pitchers. “They are going to hit a ball off of you and you are just going to leave it there because it’s (expletive) spring training? No. You’ve got to go pick it up.

“So, sorry. I did get irritated, got a little red under the cap. It’s just, every day you should get better.”

Around the horn

One of the Tigers top pitching prospects, right-hander Franklin Perez, is undergoing more tests to determine the cause of his stomach pain. He was held out of practice Monday and Tuesday. “He will miss (Wednesday), too,” Gardenhire said. “We need to find out what’s causing the pain. It’s not muscle-related. It’s not a baseball injury. But he’s in a lot of pain. He woke up in the middle of the night with it.”

… Tigers primary set-up man Joe Jimenez threw his third bullpen of the spring on Tuesday. He has been dealing with some minor muscle soreness in his right arm, but the plan going into camp was for him to ease in and then finish strong. “I don’t want to rush it,” he said. “I told Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) I need to take it easy starting out and then build up. That’s what we’re doing.”

…Gardenhire was asked if was relieved Manny Machado signed with the National League’s Padres and not the American League Central’s White Sox? “What part of San Diego did they give him,” he said. “The whole southern half of California?” Just a mere $300 million over 10 years.


Twitter: @cmccosky