Toronto — There was a point after the game Friday night when Tigers rookie reliever Reed Garrett started to feel guilty for the big smile on his face, for feeling so good after a loss. But, in all honesty, no jury would ever convict him for that — not on that night.
Garrett, whom the Tigers took in the Rule 5 draft from the Rangers, made his big-league debut, pitching a clean eighth inning in the 6-0 loss to the Blue Jays.
“I felt like I had been warming up for 10 years,” he said on Saturday morning.
Understandable. He was drafted by the Rangers in the 16th round in 2014 out of Virginia Military Institute – not exactly a baseball factory, not exactly coming into pro ball on anybody’s prospect list. He spent five seasons in the Rangers system, nearly three full seasons at the Double-A level.
“Yeah, I spent some time in Double-A,” he said with a sheepish grin. “I mean, going all the way back to college, I went to a small military school. It was not necessarily your normal four-year college experience, to say the least.
“It’s been a crazy journey for me, for sure.”
In 2016, he was a 185-pound spot starter and long reliever with a fastball that topped out at 90 mph. By June of 2017, he weighed 217 pounds and his fastball was being clocked at 96-97 mph. And that’s why, when the Rangers left him unprotected last winter, the Tigers pounced.
And he made the Tigers decision to keep him on the roster very easy, with a fastball that stayed consistently at 96-97 mph, a wipe-out slider and a developing split-fingered pitch.
"Exactly what we saw in spring," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's got a great arm with a nice breaking ball. This was a good pick-up by our organization. He's going to help us."
So, heck yes he was allowed to savor every moment of his big-league debut Friday night.
“It was crazy,” Garrett said. “I came back in quick after the game. My wife and parents were here. I went out to see them, and to see the looks on their faces was just…”
The words caught in his throat for a second.
“It was awesome to share that with them,” he said.
It was especially poignant, too, that John Hicks caught his debut. Both Garrett and Hicks are from the Richmond, Va., area. They grew up in neighboring communities – Hicks in Goochland and Garrett in Henrico — without knowing each other.
But when Hicks found out the Tigers had drafted him, he noticed where Garrett was from. They had mutual friends who got them together. Hicks called him up over the winter, welcomed him to the Tigers and basically said, “So when do you want to throw a bullpen?”
“It was cool to share that moment with somebody who was from Richmond and who was the first person to reach out and say, ‘Hey, welcome. Let’s get to know each other,’” Garrett said.
Hicks met Garrett at the mound before he threw his first warm-up pitch Friday.
“He’s got a special arm,” Hicks said. “But I am sure he was very amped up. I went out to the mound before his inning and told him, ‘Take a deep breath and enjoy it, man. Just have fun.’”
Funny, bullpen leader Shane Greene had done the same thing a half-inning earlier — only he did it without words.
“Greeney brought me a cup of water when I was warming up,” Garrett said. “He told me later, ‘I saw that you were moving pretty quick. So I brought you a cup of water to slow you down.’ That was very helpful. For a guy to recognize that, a guy who has been in situations throughout his career.
“It was awesome for him, without saying anything, to let me know, slow down, everything is going to be all right.”
Still, it took a couple of pitches for him to shake the anxiety and lock in.
“Yeah, I had to take a couple of steps off the mound and take a deep breath,” he said. “After that, I felt like I was back to central.”
He got Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., to pop out then he struck out Kevin Pillar with a slider. Hicks immediately rolled the ball back to the dugout for safe-keeping. He finished the inning getting Billy McKinney to ground out to shortstop.
“Throughout the process, I tried not to think about it as much as possible,” Garrett said. “I just wanted to take every day as that day and forget about yesterday and not even worry about tomorrow. I just wanted to be in the moment.
“But when Gardy told me I had made the team, it was incredible. Everything I’d done and worked for since I was four years old, it was coming true.”
Smile on, Reed Garrett.
Continuing Tigers' mastery
He grew up a Tigers fan, living in Trenton and then starring at Eastern Michigan University. But he’s certainly not treated them kindly over his professional career.
Blue Jays right-hander Matt Shoemaker shut the Tigers offense down again Friday night over seven innings. He allowed two hits to Nick Castellanos and nothing but a pair of walks to the other eight hitters.
Over his career, most spent with the Angels, he’s 3-1 with an 0.83 ERA — three earned runs in 32.2 innings — in five starts against the Tigers.
Friday night, though, was emotional for him on a different level.
“It chokes you up a little bit,” he told Toronto reporters after the game. “You battle for a year and a half trying to get back. And you feel great, ready to go, and come out with a great, exciting team, and go out there and just pitch, compete, have fun. And win.”
Shoemaker’s career was derailed the last two years by a mysterious nerve condition in his forearm. He had surgery in 2017 to release the radial nerve in his forearm. That didn’t alleviate the problem. In 2018, he had another surgery to repair another nerve and a tendon.
He was released by the Angels in November and the Tigers were among the teams that had him on their free agent radar. But the Blue Jays stepped up with a $3.5-million offer at about the same time the Tigers signed Matt Moore for $2.5 million.
“Looking back on the last couple years, it’s super frustrating,” Shoemaker, 32, told reporters. “We still don’t even know what really happened with my forearm. Other than what we fixed, you know? But it’s in the past. I got better from it. I feel great. And now I get to just go out there and play.”
Around the horn
Left-hander Daniel Norris worked 2⅓ scoreless innings in Saturday's 3-0 loss, but he got an assist from Victor Alcantara. Norris, who allowed two hits and two walks, left with two on and one out in the eighth. Alcantara loaded the bases, hitting Randal Grichuk. But he struck out Kevin Pillar and got Freddy Galvis to fly out.
... The Tigers' two-run output is the lowest through the first three games of a season since 2003, when they also scored two runs in the first three games.
... The Tigers were shut out a major-league most 18 times last season. They have been shut out twice in three games this year.
....The Tigers have also lost 14 of the last 19 games at Rogers Centre.
Tigers at Blue Jays
First pitch: 1:07 Sunday, Rogers Centre, Toronto
►RHP Trent Thornton, Blue Jays: This will be the major-league debut for the 25-year-old, University of North Carolina product. He is filling while injured starters Ryan Borucki and Clay Buchholz recover.
►LHP Matt Moore, Tigers: Once upon a time Moore was an All-Star. That was 2013. Four years later he led baseball in earned runs allowed. Somewhere in-between is the real Matt Moore. The Tigers are hoping to discover he’s closer to the 2013 version.