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After confounding offseason, RHP Dario Agrazal happy to take his shot with Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Port Charlotte, Fla. – The business side of baseball can be cruel and it can be confusing. Just ask Tigers right-hander Dario Agrazal.

The 25-year-old Panamanian started 14 games for the Pirates last season, finally getting to the Show after slogging through their minor league system for seven years. And for his efforts, he was unceremoniously designated for assignment.

From left, the Tigers' Dawel Lugo, Ivan Nova, Dario Agrazal and Sergio Alcantara talk during a water break.

OK, he’d been through that before. The Pirates DFA’d him after his Double-A season in 2018 and he pitched his way to the big-leagues the next year. But this time it got weirder.

The Tigers purchased his contract in November and he was fired up. But, on Jan. 8, before he could even find a place to stay in Lakeland, the Tigers designated him for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for free-agent signee Ivan Nova.

“Crazy,” he said on Thursday. “It was hard, too. But we’re here, man. We’re here. Just keep working and pitching. Maybe I will make the team. Just keep working.”

After he cleared waivers, the Tigers assigned him to Triple-A Toledo and invited him to big league camp.

“Yeah, it does motivate,” he said. “I mean, this is my second time (being DFA’d). I kept working and made it to the big leagues the first time. So, I believe in my talent and we’re ready.”

Agrazal, who pitched his third scoreless inning of the spring Thursday in the 6-3 loss to the Rays, isn’t overpowering, but his hard sinker (91 mph) and change-up combination – he also mixes in a slider and four-seam fastball – generates a lot of soft contract. His hard-hit rate of 29.8 percent was in the top eight percentile in baseball last year.

“I don’t pitch to strike guys out a lot,” he said. “I pitch to contact, easy ground balls and quick outs.”

What he learned in his time with the Pirates last season, though, is the margin for location errors in the big leagues is much smaller than in the minors. Although the average exit velocity on balls put in play against him was medium contact (86 mph), he still gave up 15 home runs in 73 innings.

“I throw a lot of strikes,” he said. “But in the big leagues, you have to be more consistent. Like, if you want to pitch inside, get it inside. If you want to go away, go away. You can’t miss over the plate.  Right now it’s more about getting more consistent with my secondary pitches.”

Agrazal has been penciled in to start at Triple-A Toledo but forgive him if he’s not taking even that for granted. It’s possible the Tigers will open the year with their four top pitching prospects – Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo – in the rotation at Toledo. So, unless they use a six-man rotation, Agrazal could be fighting for one spot with Tyler Alexander, Tim Adleman, Kyle Funkhouser and Shao-Ching Chiang.

Veterans Zack Godley and Hector Santiago are also in the mix, but they have opt-outs in their contracts and may not accept an assignment to Toledo.

“It’s not my decision,” Agrazal said. “I just have to pitch. I am here and I’m feeling happy because they have given me an opportunity to pitch here.”

Papa Nick Ramirez

Tigers left-hander Nick Ramirez is back on the grind – trying to win back the bullpen role he thought he did a good job of securing with nearly 80 innings of work last season. But his perspective, and maybe his idea of what a grind truly is, have been forever altered.

On Feb. 20, at 3:01 a.m., after a three-day ordeal, his wife Tiffany gave birth to Reese Ryan Ramirez, the couple’s first child.

Nick Ramirez

“It’s like everything I understood before is different now,” he said. “I just want to be the best father I can be. Rather than before, you know, you want to be the best person you can be, or the best husband, or whatever. Now, I want to be the best father figure and role model I can be.”

Ramirez left camp on Feb. 17 and the baby was due on Feb. 18.

“We waited and waited and waited,” Ramirez said. “They gave her Pitocin (to induce labor) but the baby would react poorly, so they’d back off. Then they’d pump it up again and have to back off.”

After 30 hours of active labor, finally, Reese made his debut.

“My wife, she’s awesome,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t think she’d want another one after all that, but she’s already talking about it. She said she thought being pregnant was the worse part. She said the labor and all that stuff, she could do that again.”

Ramirez spent nearly a full day with his son before flying back to Lakeland. Naturally, his return flight was delayed four hours, so he got about three hours sleep before he had to throw a bullpen session.

Playing it safe

Tigers shortstop Niko Goodrum hasn't played in a game since Saturday, but there's rarely a time you see him around the clubhouse when he isn't running to the batting cage working up a sweat in the weight room. 

The club is playing it ultra safe with Goodrum. He felt some tightness in his groin area earlier in the week, and since it is the same groin (adductor) that ended his season late August last year, they are taking every precaution.

"We're not going to screw around with it," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He was ready to play today. He comes by my office every day and says, 'I'm good.' I tell him, 'Not for me.'

"He said that last year and he ended up out for the season. So when he says I'm good that means an extra three or four days off."  

Open tryout 

The Tigers will run their annual tryout camp on the back fields at Joker Marchant Stadium Monday, March 9. Registration begins at 8 a.m. that day with the tryouts starting at 9 a.m.

The camp is open to players age 18-23, or players who have experience with a big-league organization. No locker rooms will be available, so come ready to play.

Twitter @cmccosky