Lakeland, Fla. – Jose Cisneros hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2014. Since missing all of 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery, he’s been about as far away from it as you can get, toiling in the Mexican and Independent leagues.
But there he was in Clearwater Wednesday, in a Tigers uniform, throwing 97 and 98 mph heat at the Phillies. Certainly, it’s a testament to his perseverance, but it also shows the lengths the Tigers have gone to stock their bullpen with power arms.
“Mike Russell (Tigers scout) saw him down in the Dominican Republic and called right away,” general manager Al Avila said. “When you see a guy like that, you better act right away because somebody else is watching him, too.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise.”
In that game in Clearwater, the Tigers started Spencer Turnbull, who was featuring 96-mph two-seam fastballs. Three relievers followed – Rule 5 draftee Reed Garrett, Victor Alcantara and Cisneros. All three were pumping fastballs between 95-98 mph. Cisneros struck out two of the three batters he faced.
“These guys don’t just walk in off the streets,” said bench coach Steve Liddle, who managed the game in Clearwater. “You look at the radar gun, but more than that, you look at the swings they are taking off of him.
“They’re not healthy swings. They are defensive swings. That’s what you are looking for with a guy coming out of the pen.”
Closer Shane Greene and lefty Blaine Hardy are the only two bullpen pieces right now who wouldn’t be classified as power pitchers, though Greene can amp it up to the mid-90s when he wants to. Lefty Daniel Stumpf has been working in the low-90s this spring, but he touched 96 mph last season.
The others, though, are capable of oppressive firepower: Joe Jimenez, Drew VerHagen, Buck Farmer, Alcantara, Garrett and Cisneros throw it in the mid- to upper-90s.
Jimenez, Greene and Farmer all worked scoreless innings in the Tigers, 5-3 Grapefruit League win over the Astros Thursday. As did Hardy, who got four outs in the game.
Even the guys who have already been reassigned to minor-league camp – Jose Fernandez, Zac Reininger and Eduardo Paredes – throw in the mid-90s.
“We do feel we have some depth,” Avila said. “But you never feel 100-percent comfortable. You want to accumulate more depth. You always feels like you’re going to need more. We’ve got some young guys that are pushing up the ladder. But we’ve found a couple of guys through our scouting system that we’ve been very pleased with.”
Fernandez, a hard-throwing left-hander with a biting slider, was one of them. The Tigers claimed him off waivers from the Blue Jays.
“He could have made our club,” Avila said. “You talk about (roster) numbers. When we talked to him, we said, ‘You haven’t done anything to hurt yourself.’ But somebody has to go down.”
Cisneros could be in the same position. The Tigers will likely have to decide between Farmer, Alcantara and Cisneros for the eighth spot in the rotation.
“He’s a guy we discussed and we’re like, ‘How does he not make the team?’” Avila said. “But, if in the next few days he ends up going back to Toledo, that’s just another good arm we have down there. So we feel OK about the depth, but you never feel totally comfortable.”
Cabrera getting loose
The Tigers had their hitting shoes on against Astros right-hander Corbin Martin Thursday. Jeimer Candelario, hitting left-handed, hit a pair of home runs – one into the party deck in right and the other in the bullpen in right-center.
Miguel Cabrera had no problem with Martin’s 96-mph fastballs, either. He ambushed the first one he saw in the first inning and lashed it some 400 feet for an RBI double. Astros center fielder Derek Fisher made a diving effort for the ball and fell hard on his shoulder.
He left the game, but he said later that was just for precautionary reasons. He doesn't expect to miss any time.
In Cabrera’s second at-bat in the third inning, he swung late on the first 96-mph fastball he saw. Martin came back with another one and Cabrera put it onto the berm in left-center field. It was his third homer of the spring.
"That's the hardest ball he's hit," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's hit some long ones the opposite way, but that's the hardest ball he's hit that I've seen this spring. He killed that ball.
"He's feeling good. He told me he wants to play pretty much every day the rest of the way. He wants to keep getting at-bats. He's starting to see it real good. That tells you where he's at."
Gardenhire said he will alternate Cabrera between first base and designated hitter, though Cabrera's preference is to play more first base.
"He wants to be out there on the field," Gardenhire said. "He says it helps keep him loose. The hard part about being a DH is you sit around for a good little while and then you have to try to get loose again.
"We'll just see where we're at."
Moore working OT
Tigers starter and lefty Matt Moore had a laborious outing. It took him 86 pitches to go 4.1 innings. The Astros fouled off a lot of pitches and worked many deep counts.
"Sometimes it goes that way," he said. "They say baseball is a game of inches, but sometimes it's a game of half-inches or quarter-inches."
Unofficially, Moore got just four swings and misses.
"My breaking ball wasn't very good today," he said. "That was kind of the deal. It was getting me back to even (in the count) as opposed to keeping me ahead. I would get ahead with the heater and then falling behind or back to even with my breaking ball."
Still, of the six hits allowed, only one was for extra bases. Tony Kemp launched one up in the jet stream blowing out to right center. What even Kemp thought was as routine fly ball ended up clearing the right-center field fence.