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'It felt good:' Tigers' Peterson clubs old team, continues bid for roster spot

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
The Tigers' Dustin Peterson, shown here during infield drills in Lakeland, clubbed a three-run home run Thursday against the Braves.

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Dustin Peterson found out that he was on the travel squad for the exhibition game against the Braves here Thursday, and that got his blood up. Then he saw that he was starting in left field and batting fifth.

"I just got a burst of adrenaline and energy," he said. "I was all fired up."

Peterson spent four years climbing through the Braves talent-rich farm system and when he finally got the call last year, his big-league stay lasted two at-bats. Worse, he was dropped from the Braves 40-man roster on Sept. 2 to clear roster space for Preston Tucker.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, Braves 6

So, yeah, there were some emotions roiling around in Peterson on Thursday as he returned to his old stomping grounds. Returned triumphantly. 

Peterson greeted his former teammates with a booming three-run home run, keying a five-run first inning as the Tigers hung on for a 7-6 Grapefruit League win.

It was Peterson’s fifth hit in 11 at-bats this spring. He did damage on defense, too. In the fifth inning, he got back to the left field wall, timed his leap perfectly and stole what would have been a second home run by Pedro Florimon.

"I don't know which one felt better, to be honest," said Peterson, whom the Tigers quickly claimed off waivers last September. "They both felt really good. I had this game marked on my calendar. 

"The guys have been asking me, 'Are you ready for the Braves?' I've been more than ready. To do what I did today was a lot of fun."

The Braves, for the lack of a better way to put it, broke Peterson's heart. 

"Things ended a little differently, a little unexpectedly, with the Braves last year," he said. "I was thinking I was going to get a September call-up. I finished strong in Triple-A and I was looking forward to getting called up, playing in September and getting some time under my belt."

Instead of a ticket to Atlanta, he got a pink slip.

"When it happened, I said, 'All right,' and I handled it how I handled it," Peterson said. "I was fortunate enough to be claimed by the Tigers. ... It just feels good to be given a chance. I am getting opportunities to start, I am getting a lot of at-bats.

"It feels good. The Tigers have my back. They're supporting me. I can't thank them enough."

Peterson hit the home run off of right-hander Touki Toussaint, his teammate the last few years.

"I grew up in that system and I grew up playing with those guys through all the levels," he said. "We all progressed together, and Touki is one of my good friends."

Peterson paused, smiled and said, "That was a great pitch to hit. And I did everything right. It felt good. Oh man, did it feel good."

Peterson’s best chance of breaking camp with the Tigers, barring injury, is if the club carries five outfielders. That seems unlikely, since utility man Niko Goodrum and second baseman Josh Harrison both can play corner outfield.

The Tigers have given him reps at first base, searching for possible ways to keep his bat on the roster.

"I'm going to use the DH role for a lot of different things," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "A lot of it will depend on Miggy (Cabrera) and how much he plays at first base. But it will be an opportunity to get people at-bats at that spot."

Gardenhire said he wants Peterson to continue to take ground balls and throws at first base, as well as continue his outfield work.

"He's game-on," Gardenhire said of Peterson. "He's working hard, and that's what you have to do when you come into a camp — show people what you can do. And we know he can swing it."

Moore going cutter-less

It was the second solid start of the spring for lefty Matt Moore. He threw 44 pitches over 2.1 innings, the only damage being a two-run home run by Florimon in the third inning.

“I thought we executed our game plan today,” he said. “(Catcher) Bobby Wilson and Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) talked about not having that specific of an approach, just certain guidelines for certain counts.

“I liked the way we were able to execute, for the most part.”

Interestingly, Moore has not incorporated his cutter yet this spring. He is going with a fastball, curveball and change-up mix.

“I am definitely not giving up on it,” he said. “Right now, my main approach isn’t going to involve the cutter. I have a foundation with my three pitches now. As the season gets going and you see lineups again and again, you have something.

“I always know I can get to that pitch. But it’s something where I don’t want to start throwing it too early and start relying on it.”

His fastball range was 90-94, which is just fine with him.

“It’s not where you try to throw every pitch the same exact miles per hour,” he said. “You add and subtract. That’s just pitching. An 0-2 curveball will be a different than an 0-0 curveball.”

Still, grunting on some of the 92-mph heaters, he struck out three, including getting Freddy Freeman to swing through a 2-2 change-up to end the first inning.

“Sometimes when I do that (grunt), it’s on my change-up and I am just trying to sell it more,” Moore said. “Today was definitely unintentional, and it was more on the fastball (laughs).”

Strikeouts, though, Moore said, aren’t the end-all, be-all for him.

“There are so many different ways to get outs than swings and misses,” he said. “As I get older, almost 30, swing and misses are great, they are sexy, but they aren’t something I am necessarily chasing all the time.”

Around the horn

Shortstop prospect Willi Castro blasted his first home run of the spring. "He has no fear," Gardenhire said. "He knows how to play baseball. He's not coming in here with his eyes real big or anything. He's going about it really well. He's really talented."

... Victor Alcantara, Zac Reininger, Jose Fernandez, Eduardo Paredes and Zac Houston pitched scoreless innings for the Tigers. Eduardo Jimenez allowed four runs on two hits and two walks in the ninth.

... Tyson Ross will make his second start of the spring against the Mets in Lakeland. 


Twitter: @cmccosky