Tigers take a chance, add former All-Star Rosenthal to bullpen mix

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Trevor Rosenthal

Cleveland – This was always going to happen. 

The lure for Trevor Rosenthal to sign a minor-league deal with the rebuilding Tigers on June 29 was the promise of an opportunity to pitch again in the big leagues.

"We agreed to give him an opportunity up here once we signed him," manager Ron Gardenhire said before Monday's game after the Tigers announced they had purchased Rosenthal's contract from Triple-A Toledo. "Now we're going to give him a look.

"He throws the ball 100 mph. He was one of the better closers in the game a few years ago. We'll see what he's got."

They cleared a spot for him Sunday by optioning left-hander Gregory Soto back to Toledo. The Tigers want Soto to get regular work and stay stretched out in case they need to add him to the starting rotation this month.

"I saw Rosenthal throw in the pen back home and he was throwing the fire out of the ball," Gardenhire said. "We know he's got the arm. We know he's got a breaking ball. Now can he get up here and compete like he has in the past?"

Rosenthal signed a $7 million deal with the Nationals before the season but was released on June 23 after giving up 16 runs and 15 walks in 6 1/3 innings. In six games at Toledo, he allowed six runs, eight hits, two home runs and six walks with nine strikeouts.

But a lot of those ugly numbers at Toledo were accrued in his first couple of outings. Working with pitching coach Juan Nieves, Rosenthal believes he's making steady progress.

"I feel like I'm getting a better feel for my pitches, commanding the baseball, commanding the zone," he said after going through a brief workout at Progressive Field. "I'm getting in a good rhythm. I was pitching pretty much every other day until the All-Star break.

"Being here now, I'll have the opportunity to build on that."

He said he and Nieves bonded right away.

"He's had some really good insight," Rosenthal said. "We talked a little mechanics, but more about mindset, pitch location and how I attack hitters. He has some great experience and knowledge and he gave me some great advice."

It's been a humbling couple of years for a pitcher who made 93 saves for the Cardinals in 2014 and 2015, and was a postseason hero. In eight playoff series between 2012 and 2015, he posted an 0.69 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 26 innings.

"It's been like nothing I had anticipated," he said. "I'm just trying to get through it, learn from everything that's been going on and hopefully use that for future success. But right now, being in the middle of it, it's just, keep my head down and keep working.

"Just take every day and try to get a little better and hope that it will pay off in the end."

Bottom line for the Tigers, it's a no-risk look a veteran pitcher who still throws upper-90s to 100-mph heat. 

"We don't worry about (his numbers at Toledo), we go by what our people are telling us," Gardenhire said. "And they are telling us it's time. Obviously, there was some kind of obligation and we were getting to the point where it was either yea or nay. 

"We took the yea, and here we go."

About Soto

It was a surprise to just about everyone in the Tigers clubhouse, players and coaches alike, that Soto was sent back to Toledo. 

Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson felt they found a good niche for him, working long relief. He had pitched three scoreless, one-hit innings in relief of Spencer Turnbull on Friday.

They figured they could alternate Soto and Nick Ramirez in that role — each being able to pitch every three days or so. It would give Soto time to develop a change-up, or some other third pitch, which he will need to be a starter long-term. 

The organizational plan was a little different. The starting pitching depth is paper-thin, and it could get thinner if Matthew Boyd is traded and Tyson Ross never makes it back from his nerve issue. 

So, the plan is for Soto to join the rotation in Toledo and stay stretched out. And when the inevitable need arises for a starter in Detroit, he will be ready. 

Soto's move back to the rotation coincided with prospect Kyle Funkhouser's demotion to Double-A Erie. 

The Tigers after the game announced that left-hander Ryan Carpenter will be called up to start on Tuesday. Reliever Jose Cisneros was sent back to Toledo.

Sweet like Candy

Gardenhire offered some unique insight into the encouraging surge third baseman Jeimer Candelario has been on since coming back from his second demotion to Triple-A. 

"He's a lot more confident now and he's on a little bit of a mission," he said. "He is just concentrating better. He's able to concentrate better now. That's where it starts. His mind just seemed to wander, but he's doing well."

In 14 games since June 26 his slash-line is .327/.397/.635. He's hit four home runs, knocked in 11 runs and has an OPS of 1.031. He's also been rock solid at third base.

"He's actually pretty serious about this," Gardenhire said. "He's really focused right now. He's not just, 'Hey, I'm here, I'm gifted.' He's really focused and that really makes a big difference on how he plays."

Twitter.com: @cmccosky

Tigers at Indians

First pitch: Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Scouting report

LHP Ryan Carpenter (1-5, 8.36): His last two starts have been solid. For the Tigers on July 5, he limited the Red Sox to three runs in five innings and four strikeouts. Then July 11 for the Mud Hens, he allowed one run with six strikeouts over six innings.

LHP Zach Plesac (3-3, 4.00), Indians: He was recalled from Triple-A Columbus Monday for this spot start. The son of former big-league pitcher Dan Plesac, he beat the Tigers on June 23, allowing one run in seven innings.