Lakeland, Fla. — If you like X-factors — Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto could be the difference between an average bullpen and really good one. Both have struggled early in spring, but in the 4-1 win over the Pirates Tuesday, they both brought the fire.
"And they threw strikes," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said, which is the make-or-break element for both.
Cisnero entered with two on in the fifth and promptly struck out Guillermo Heredia with a fastball that hit 97 mph and then got Erik Gonzalez to ground to second.
"That's the first time we've seen him get up to mid-90s," Gardenhire said. "He'd been 91-92 and we were getting a little concerned."
Soto, who had been erratic in his early outings, rang up 100 mph on his first pitch. He hit 100 two other times and threw a clean ninth inning with two strikeouts.
"He was rushing everything," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "We backed him off and worked in the 'pen on getting back (loading) before going forward. When he came off today I said, 'That's what we're talking about.'
"He said, 'I told you I stayed back.' I said we should've done it two weeks ago. That was fun to watch."
Who knows how it's going to shake out, but the Tigers could conceivably have Cisnero, Soto, right-hander Shao-Ching Chiang (who was throwing 97 mph in another scoreless inning Tuesday) and Bryan Garcia bridging the gap to set-up man Buck Farmer and closer Joe Jimenez.
Jimenez also pitched a scoreless inning Tuesday.
Cameron Maybin talks about being process-driven and not results-driven this time of year. Still, when he came to bat in the sixth inning Tuesday against lefty Derek Holland, he had just one hit in 20 at-bats this spring.
So, process or no process, it felt good when he barreled up a breaking ball from Holland and drove it on a line onto the berm beyond the left-field wall.
"Oh yeah, but the last few days I've been hitting a lot more balls hard," he said. "Really that's what I want, just to get some hard contact. Just continue to stay diligent and get the little kinks out.
"I try to use spring training for what it is, just to get ready for the season."
Jones playing catch-up
JaCoby Jones has missed two weeks with a right calf injury, but Gardenhire said he expects to pencil his center fielder in the lineup on Thursday.
"He's getting well," Gardenhire said. "But he's a little out of shape. He's not in game shape. So, he will get a couple of at-bats (in the game) and then he will probably have to get some swings on the back fields, too."
Jones has just six at-bats in three games this spring.
"He's behind," Gardenhire said. "He's missed a lot of time, so we've got to catch him up."
The Tigers had the long-ball working for them Tuesday — three solo blasts off Holland. Besides Maybin, C.J. Cron and Jeimer Candelario both got him in the second inning. Cron, who has three this spring, sent his to the back of the berm in left-center field.