Gregory Soto an X-factor in Tigers' bullpen; Alex Faedo looks lean, mean; Trammell on IL

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Live batting practice is the ultimate tease during spring training. The pitchers are well ahead of the hitters this early. Shoot, for many hitters, it’s the first time they’ve faced live pitching in months.

So, as you can imagine, it can become an unfair fight and distort impressions. Like on Tuesday when Cameron Maybin stepped in against lefty Gregory Soto and was greeted with 98 mph fastballs.

From left, catcher Kade Scivicque, pitcher Gregory Soto and coach Jorge Cordova talk after live batting practice session Tuesday in Lakeland, Florida.

“Second day of live BP and he’s throwing 98?” Maybin said.

To be fair, Soto is further ahead than even most pitchers. He’s coming off an impressive 12-game stint in the Dominican winter league where he allowed one run in 11 innings, striking out 16 and walking just four.

“Yeah, SotoPop (his nickname for Soto) is doing just fine,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Soto, 25 and twice the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year, could be a pivotal piece of the Tigers’ bullpen this season. He came up through the system as a starter but seemed to find his niche in the Detroit bullpen last season.

He had an 8.49 ERA in seven starts, allowing 22 runs in 23.1 innings. In 26 bullpen appearances, he posted a 3.93 ERA. Over the last 17 games, all in relief, he gave up five runs in 16 innings with 14 strikeouts.

“He’s important to us in a lot of ways,” Gardenhire said. “He was successful for us out of the 'pen. You know, every other team was bringing guys in throwing 100 mph. We finally had a couple of guys, Soto and (Jose) Cisnero, bringing it 96-98.

“And when you have a guy who misfires just a little bit, that puts the fear of God in other hitters. Between Soto and Cisnero, I think we had that.”

For better or worse. Soto walked 33 hitters in 57.2 innings. That’s why it was so encouraging to see his 16-4 strikeout-to-walk numbers this winter. Soto ended up pitching in the late innings last season, but Gardenhire made it clear that was out of necessity.

“I felt like I had to,” he said. “That was not a set-up role. Let’s not act like it was built like that. We had to ad-lib a lot and get through it. But I wasn’t afraid of it. We trusted him. When you throw that hard, you have a chance to get late outs, and he did.”

Besides throwing strikes, Soto will have to find an antidote to right-handed hitters. They slashed .314/.400/.564 against him last season and accounted for the nine home runs he allowed.

Faedo feeling it

The last batter Tigers pitching prospect Alex Faedo faced Tuesday, shortstop Sergio Alcantara, fouled a pitch off and starting to walk out of the cage thinking the at-bat was over.

“One more,” Faedo yelled back.

Alcantara stepped back in and Faedo, the Tigers first-round pick in 2017, proceeded to blow a high fastball right by him. Now that’s how you end a session.

“I watched him,” Gardenhire said. “He was good. He’d had a little stiffness, but he got through it. He’s got stuff.”

Faedo has progressed steadily since going through a dip in velocity and some mechanical reworking in the second half of 2018. He’s much leaner than he was in 2018 and his delivery seems smoother.

He was getting swings and misses with a high fastball (no velocity readings were available) and a biting slider. 

“It was more about working on things,” Faedo said of 2018. “I think we were trying to get on top of some things that ended up helping me a lot last year. You want to pitch well and win as many games as you can, but it’s about development, too, so that when they do call your name, you’re ready.”

In 22 starts at Double-A Erie, Faedo went 6-7 with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. He struck out 134 and walked 25 in 115/1 innings. He’s expected to start in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo this year and is a candidate to make his big-league debut later in the year.

“I wouldn’t say I was antsy,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good guys in this organization and I like playing with all of them. Whatever team I play on, just be a good teammate and perform as well as I can. All I can control is being a good teammate and perform on the field.

“If I do those things, hopefully at some point in the future that will happen.”

Tigers special assistant to the manager Alan Trammell, left, talks with manager Ron Gardenhire, right, and unidentified coach, center, at Detroit Tigers spring training.   Trammell fractured his fibula in a snowmobiling mishap while riding through trails in northern Michigan with Kirk Gibson.

Blame Gibby

Hall-of-Famer and Tigers special assistant Alan Trammell was riding around the backfields in a golf cart Tuesday, his left foot in a boot. He fractured his fibula in a snowmobiling mishap while riding through trails in northern Michigan with Kirk Gibson.

“Honestly, it’s Gibby’s fault,” Gardenhire said with a laugh. “You are right in Gibby’s country and he tells Trammell to lead the snowmobile crew. He doesn’t know where he’s going. So I think it’s all on Gibby.”

Apparently Trammell didn’t negotiate a sudden left turn correctly and took a spill. He said he’s halfway through his rehab and should be ready to go in three weeks.

Around the horn

Pitching prospect Wladimir Pinto was held out of drills Tuesday after spraining his ankle on Monday.

… Left-hander Joey Wentz had an MRI on his left forearm Tuesday. The results were pending.

…Left-hander Nick Ramirez left camp to be with his wife, who was about to give birth.

Twitter: @cmccosky