Jupiter, Fla. — Poaching talent off the waiver wire is not the preferred method for building a contending team, for sure. But when you are early in a rebuild, and you are trying to get your payroll back under the luxury tax threshold like the Tigers have been the last two years, it can be a useful tool.
J.D. Martinez and John Hicks were waiver claims. And this spring, the Tigers have added three more — outfielder Dustin Peterson (Braves), utility man Brandon Dixon (Reds) and left-handed reliever Jose Fernandez (Blue Jays) — who are very much in the fight for a roster spot.
Peterson, for starters, has made a strong first impression.
"He can really swing the bat," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I like him a lot. He killed the ball a couple of times. He's another one of those guys who could be a big help."
Peterson laced an RBI single Monday in the 3-3 split-squad tie with the Cardinals and has four hits in nine at-bats this spring.
"He's in the competition," Gardenhire said. "If we can get him to play some first base, which we are trying. He's got some pop, in my opinion. If you are looking at guys battling for a position, he's got to be one of them — him and the kid from Cincinnati (Dixon).
"But this guy (Peterson) has some savvy to him, that's what I like. He's frickin' confident."
A second-round pick of the Padres, he spent the last four seasons with the Braves. Finally he got called up last season and got just two pinch-hit at-bats.
"I didn't get much of a chance or opportunity there," Peterson said. "And I am liking my chances here. I am excited for the opportunity. I mean, I made my debut at 23 (last season) and only got two plate appearances.
"Kind of tough to show what I got. I didn't get a start, didn't get multiple at-bats in a game. Didn't have time to get comfortable. I was kind of just thrown into the fire."
He will get plenty of chances to show what he can do, but he's facing a different kind of numbers crunch with the Tigers.
If the Tigers decide to keep a fifth outfielder — assuming Christin Stewart, JaCoby Jones, Nick Castellanos and Mikie Mahtook are set — Peterson would have to beat out Victor Reyes.
But keeping a fifth outfielder isn't a likely scenario, since both Josh Harrison and Niko Goodrum can play outfield.
More likely, the Tigers will carry a second utility man, which gives Dixon a shot. He is battling with Ronny Rodriguez, Gordon Beckham and Harold Castro.
"We have to let it play out," Gardenhire said. "But just the first look at the way these guys are going about their business, we've got two pretty good guys battling out here and Pete is one of them.
"All you want to do as a player coming into camp is open some eyes early and put yourself in a position where we have to make a tough decision. I think both of those guys, when it's all said and done, will do that."
Over in Clearwater
It looked good for a minute. The other split-squad team was up 5-0 at one point, but the Phillies scored 11 unanswered runs and took their second straight Grapefruit League game from the Tigers, 12-7.
Grayson Greiner and Christin Stewart homered and Nick Castellanos had an RBI double.
Jordan Zimmermann, who could well be the club's Opening Day starter, struck out four in two perfect innings of work.
"It was alright," he told reporters in Clearwater. "I set them up a little better today. Get them thinking fastball and I threw a couple sliders that were middle but they were down and froze them.
"Overall, I had command of really all four pitches today."
Three of the four strikeouts came with his slider, which he has taken some velocity off of and gotten more depth. He said he also threw 12 change-ups, which he may not do in any other start this season.
"It’s going to help all my pitches out, really," he said. "If I can throw that at any time, it’s another weapon that the hitter has to think about. It’s going to make my fastball look a little harder than what it really is, and then I can come with a slider off or a curve ball.
"I’ll have four pitches I feel good about commanding if I can master this."
Around the horn
In Jupiter, John Hicks, catching for the second day in the row, ripped an RBI double. Miguel Cabrera, who was the DH, walked and slapped an RBI single in three at-bats.
...Center field prospect Daz Cameron hit his second double in as many days. This one, a rocket to left center, likely would have been a home run if not for a strong crosswind blowing from left field to right. Cameron is expected to start against the Mets Tuesday in Port St. Lucie. He will have played in four of the first five games, including the scrimmage against Southeastern University.
...The Cardinals scored a run off prospect Gregory Soto in the seventh. Soto, who will start the season on MLB’s suspended list, set up the run with an errant pick-off throw to first base.
...The Cardinals tied the game in the bottom of the ninth of minor-league camper Spenser Watkins.