Early returns positive for side-winding Alex Wilson and mashing Miguel Cabrera

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. – One of the reasons the Tigers brought veteran right-hander Alex Wilson back (minor-league deal) was to provide some leadership in what looks to be a very young bullpen again this season.

So, imagine the confusion at seeing Wilson having lunch with 24-year-old minor-leaguer Nolan Blackwood and it’s Wilson asking all the questions. Imagine seeing Wilson doing the same with rookie John Schreiber.

“I’ve been picking their brains like crazy,” said Wilson.

Alex Wilson throws live batting practice and works on his sidearm delivery at Detroit Tigers spring training in Lakeland, Fla.

You already know why. Wilson has added a sidearm delivery to his tool kit this spring and Blackwood and Schreiber have been throwing that way their entire pro careers.

“I will ask, ‘What do you think when you do this?’” Wilson said. “’Why do you do that?’ These have been doing it a long time and I’m trying to learn as much as I can.”

The early results – and it’s been just two live bullpen sessions – have been encouraging for Wilson. Right-handed hitters, especially, will have uncomfortable at-bats against him, as C.J. Cron found out on Monday when his legs buckled on one sweeping pitch.

“I thought everything went real well,” Wilson said after his first session. “I was able to locate arm-side in (on right-handers) from the drop-down slot, and for me never having faced live hitters before, that is my biggest challenge.

“I was getting good swings, four or five soft-contact ground balls and that’s all I need. That’s me. I want soft contact, I want it quick and I want it on the ground.”

Wilson’s splits have been fairly even throughout his career (.257 right-handers, .246 lefties), but last season, he gave up 10 home runs in Triple-A to right-handed hitters. That and the fact he was in Triple-A most of the year alone was enough to make him rethink his repertoire.

“The drop-down is more for right-handers,” he said. “My numbers against lefties have always been pretty good. Brad (Ausmus, former Tigers manager) used me as a lefty specialist there for a while…This just gives me multiple avenues and it puts something different in their heads.”

Wilson believes hitters got too familiar with his fastball-cutter arsenal all thrown over the top with very little variance in velocity. Adding the drop-down slot, he’s been able to throw a change-up and a more sweeping slider, which he can use off his cutter.

“My change-up has always sucked,” he said. “It’s never been a part of my life and now I have one that’s decent. Everything we’re doing, I’m encouraged by.”

Skubal gets the nod

The first start of the spring goes to – lefty prospect Tarik Skubal. Manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday that Skubal will start in the exhibition game against Lakeland’s Southeastern University on Friday.

“I’m excited,” said Skubal, ranked No. 4 in the Tigers system by MLBPipeline and No. 2 by The Detroit News. “It’s a good opportunity to go out and compete.”

It’s almost a no-win proposition for the Tigers players. Playing a against college players it’s ho-hum if you win, you are supposed to dominate, but it’s a panic if you don’t.

“I won’t try to get caught up in that, but I probably will,” Skubal said. “Just go out there and do your thing.”

Also expected to pitch for the Tigers Friday are Rule 5 draftee Rony Garcia, Blackwood, Anthony Castro and Gerson Moreno.

Jordan Zimmermann will start the opener of the Grapefruit League season on Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium.   

Tigers' Miguel Cabrera takes batting practice at Detroit Tigers spring training in Lakeland, Fla., on Wednesday.

Miggy mashing early

Nobody wants to talk much about it. It’s early. It’s only batting practice. He hasn’t faced live pitching yet. All qualifiers apply. But the reality is, the toned-up Miguel Cabrera has looked impressive the first three days of camp.

“He’s dialed in,” Gardenhire said. “He’s fielding ground balls and feeling really good, too. Now we just have to keep him that way.”

Cabrera has taken part in every defensive drill at first base except rundowns. He then typically takes four or five rounds of regular batting practice (with a coach throwing from behind an L-screen). The first two days he mostly hit balls up the middle and to right field.

On Wednesday he cut loose. He was hitting balls way over the fence in left, center and right – just like the old days. He was also staying back and turning on his chronically-ailing right knee more than he has in two years.

It’s a good sign, but, shh, it’s early.

Around the horn 

Left-handed pitching prospect Joey Wentz (No. 10 MLBPipeline, No. 7 Detroit News) will be shut down for at least 10 days, general manager Al Avila said. X-rays on his forearm showed no structural damage, but the Tigers are going be cautious.

… Third base is probably the position prospect Isaac Paredes (No. 5 in both MLB Pipeline and Detroit News) will play in the big leagues. But on Wednesday, with Jonathan Schoop still not in camp, he did his defensive work at second base.

… Schoop, free-agent second baseman the Tigers signed for $6.1 million, was expected to arrive from Curacao Wednesday night and make his camp debut Thursday. His delay was due to visa issues. “He had a choice, he could have come on time and then missed two or three days (to get his papers in order), or he could stay and get it done,” Gardenhire said. “We told him to stay. He’s been around a long time. He’s been working out. It’ll be good to see him.”

Twitter @cmccosky