Julio Teheran, Jose Urena showing Tigers glimpses of their former successful selves

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Lakeland, Fla. — Julio Teheran and Jose Urena knew there was a group of elite starting pitching prospects knocking on the big-league door when they signed with the Tigers this offseason. And as well as Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal have pitched this spring, you couldn’t blame either of them if they were hearing footsteps.

The thing about proud veteran players, though, they don’t concede or recede without a fight.

Tigers pitcher Julio Teheran joins Michael Fulmer for a bullpen session in Lakeland, Fla.

“I love it,” Urena said. “I feel pretty happy when I see those guys. They’re out there, they’re hunting, man. They do the workouts, the pre-workouts and whatever they do, they do it with a purpose. They come to compete and that’s on my mind, like we’ve got to keep moving so that we’re moving together as a unit.

“We can help each other. You push a little bit more every day.”

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The vets had their day Friday in the Tigers’ 4-2 spring loss to the Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium. Both were sharp. Teheran started and got nicked for a couple of runs in the second inning. But his fastball velocity stayed steady at 90-91 through three innings and 53 pitches, and his slider was unhittable.

“I feel good, that’s the most important thing,” Teheran said. “Arm-wise, everything was good. I was getting ahead of the hitters and that’s a positive.”

He was pairing the slider with his two-seam fastball to good effect. He got five swings-and-misses and two of his three punch-outs with the slider.

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“My slider is the best it’s been in a while,” he said. “The last time my slider was like this was my 2016 All-Star season. That’s the kind of confidence I have right now. I feel like I can throw my pitches anytime I want. My command is there.

“It’s a different game when you have everything working and your arm feels healthy.”

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Teheran hasn’t averaged 92 mph on his fastball since 2017. Weakened by COVID-19 and later by a shoulder strain last year, his average fastball speed was a career-low 89.5 mph. That’s partly why he’s here on a make-good contract instead of a guaranteed deal.

It’s also why there’s perhaps more scrutiny on his early starts than normally would be for a pitcher with Teheran’s track record.

“There was a lot of eyes on his stuff at the beginning and it’s proving in his first two outings to be better than in the last 12 months,” manager AJ Hinch said. “The next part is the conditioning. Coming off an injury, is he conditioned to continue to pitch. We considered taking him out before the third inning, but he wasn’t breaking a sweat, not fatigued at all.”

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Urena, who had some control issues in his first start, was dominant. He retired all nine batters he faced in 32 pitches. He too worked a sinker-slider combination, only with more velocity. His fastballs — two-seam and four-seam — sat 95 mph and hit 96.

Tigers pitcher Jose Urena

“When you start to adjust and keep yourself together, you can see the results,” Urena said. “You are in attack mode, you feel confident and everything starts to work true.”

One pitch that’s still a work in progress is his change-up. It was coming in too hot — at 90-91 mph.

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“Sometimes I try to keep the same rhythm in my delivery and don’t try to go too slow so (the hitter) can pick up on it, I can’t slow the pitch down,” he said. “I’m working on it, trying to get more separation.”

Hinch likes the urgency both veteran pitchers are showing early in spring, but he’s not so sure the motivation is coming from the young arms.

“They know they’re vying for innings, so maybe it’s the competition in itself,” he said. “But more importantly, it’s getting back on the field. Teheran is coming off a broken season and Urena is coming off an injury. They’re motivated to get back to where they’ve been in their careers.”

Which is middle to top of the rotation status.

“I’m not sure the young guys are playing into it as much as they’re trying to prove their net worth to us and to themselves,” Hinch said.

Miggy getting close

The results don’t show it, but Miguel Cabrera’s most recent batch of plate appearances have the look of a hitter who is just about ready to heat up.

His final plate appearance Friday was a laser shot to right field — 107 mph off the bat — that Brett Gardner tracked and caught at the fence. It ended up being a sacrifice fly.

“I hope he waits to get locked in until April, to be honest,” Hinch said, laughing. “Not on March 12.”

It was this time last spring, right before the shutdown, that Cabrera was slamming the ball all over the yard. He’s gotten out of the gate a little slower, but he seems like his timing is just about back.

“Miggy is doing it the right way,” Hinch said. “If I had my choice and a player was going to ease his way into camp, production-wise, it would be first (hitting) to the opposite field side then to the pull side. And not getting the head (of the bat) out from the beginning and finding themselves a mess with secondary pitches.”

Around the horn

Catcher Grayson Greiner was back to work on the back fields Friday after having his nose broken by a fastball to the face on Tuesday. “He looks like he was in a prizefight,” Hinch said. “But he’s moving around better than his eye looked. He had no issues.” Hinch said he hoped to get Greiner back in a game Sunday or Monday.

…Don’t look now but Jeimer Candelario is heating up at the plate. With four hits over the last two games, he’s slashing .474/.476/.579 with a 1.055 OPS. The three balls he put in play Friday had an average exit velocity of 98.6 mph.

…Outfielder Daz Cameron, limited to hitting only because of a persistent elbow injury, made his spring debut with a pair of strikeouts.

…First baseman and non-roster invitee Renato Nunez also debuted. He entered in the sixth inning and the first batter hit a ground ball to him. He handled it easily. He grounded out and walked in two at-bats.

…Lefty non-roster invitee Derek Holland continues to impress. He struck two in his one clean inning of work, with his fastball sitting at 95 mph.   

...Hinch set his pitching rotation for early next week. Spencer Turnbull will start Sunday. Matthew Boyd and Matt Manning will work Monday and MIchael Fulmer on Tuesday. Teheran and Tarik Skubal will pitch Wednesday. 

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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