Tigers bring reliever Jose Cisnero back to big leagues after five-year hiatus

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Reliever Jose Cisnero, one of the Tigers' last cuts in spring training, is back in the big leagues.

Cleveland — Not to take anything away from the keen eye of Tigers scout Mike Russell, but manager Ron Gardenhire wasn’t sure Jose Cisnero was his most obscure discovery.

“I mean, yes, it’s a good scouting story,” Gardenhire said. “But when a guy is throwing 100 (mph), it’s really not that hard to scout him. You see an arm like that, that’s been around, who had been misfiring and now all of a sudden he is throwing strikes — you aren’t really taking much of a chance.”

Cisneros, 30, whom the Tigers signed out of the Dominican winter league this off-season, is back in the big leagues after a five-year absence.

The Tigers purchased his contract from Triple-A Toledo on Saturday and designated reliever Carlos Torres for assignment.

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“When I walked into the manager’s office (Doug Mientkiewicz), he’s funny,” Cisnero said. “He just looked at me. ‘You know where you’re going.’ I said yes. I was so happy at that moment. It’s been five years since I’ve been in the big leagues.

"I feel more excited right now (than the first time he was called up). It's hard. When you don't play for a long time and then you are coming back to the big leagues — I've been working so hard for this.”

What a journey it’s been for the power-armed Dominican reliever. He broke in with the Astros in 2013 and had Tommy John surgery the next year. The last game he pitched in the big leagues was at Comerica Park in 2014, and he gave up a single to the last hitter he faced — Torii Hunter.

The road back was adventurous. He pitched in Dominican and Venezuelan leagues. He pitched in Mexico. He pitched in an independent league in 2016.

“Mike Russell (Tigers scout) saw him down in the Dominican Republic and called right away,” general manager Al Avila said this spring. “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.”

Cisnero was one of the Tigers final cuts this spring. The only thing keeping him off the roster, besides some returning players who were out of minor-league options, was his control. A upper-90s fastball isn’t very useful if it’s not thrown for strikes.

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“Lately he’s throwing the ball a lot better than he was earlier,” Gardenhire said. “We need arms. I love velocity out of the bullpen and, as you know, we’ve had a few struggles out there trying to get through some innings.”

Cisnero had 44 strikeouts and 20 walks in 36.2 innings at Toledo, with six saves and a 2.95 ERA.

“When the season started, I was a little wild,” Cisnero said. “But I went to the bullpen and just worked, focus on throwing it in the zone, strikes.

"When I got to the mound, I just think, hit the glove. That’s what I do.”

He also went the opposite route most relievers do — he went back to pitching from a wind-up.

“Every reliever pitches from the stretch all the time,” he said. “But I went back to pitching in front like a starter, from the wind-up, and that’s really helped me.”

Given how badly the Tigers bullpen has struggled between the sixth and eighth innings recently, Gardenhire said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Cisnero in any situation.

“We don’t really have much wait room around here,” he said. “We’re just trying to get the ball to Greeney (closer Shane Greene), and that hasn’t been easy lately. There are no easy situations in the big leagues.

"So if (Cisnero) is available, he’s going to jump right into the fire.”

Leonys Martin, left, was DFA'd by the Indians on Saturday.

Indians DFA Martin

A week ago he made a successful straight steal of home plate at Comerica Park against right-hander reliever Victor Alcantara. On Saturday, he was designated for assignment by the Indians.

Center fielder and former Tiger Leonys Martin’s days with the Indians are over. He was hitting just .199 with 78 strikeouts. On Thursday, he and shortstop Francisco Lindor had to be separated in the Indians dugout.

Apparently, Lindor called Martin out for lackadaisical play in the outfield.

Martin’s ouster made room for right-handed pitcher Aaron Civale, who made a fill-in start for Mike Clevinger (ankle) against the Tigers on Saturday.

Sunday: Tigers at Indians

First pitch: 1:10 Saturday, Progressive Field, Cleveland

TV/radio: FSD/97.1


LHP Daniel Norris (2-5, 4.40), Tigers: He's coming off a good, six-inning start in which he had four 1-2-3 innings.

RHP Zach Plesac (2-2, 2.56), Indians: Last time out, the nephew of former reliever Dan Plesac took a no-hitter into the fifth inning.


Twitter: @cmccosky