Tigers' JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes feeling the heat with Nomar Mazara working back into fold
Boston — Changes are coming. Again.
Outfielder Nomar Mazara, who homered in his first rehab at-bat in Toledo Tuesday, could be back off the injured list this weekend. That means somebody, maybe one of the outfielders, maybe a pitcher, will be either sent down or out of the organization.
JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes, both off to sluggish starts at the plate, have minor-league options available. And they both responded with big games on Tuesday. Jones hit a three-run homer to bring the Tigers back into the game, and Reyes had three hits, scored twice and knocked in a run.
“I think every opportunity that you get, you want to take advantage of it if you are JaCoby and Victor, or a lot of our guys,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game Wednesday. “The buzz and talk about the minor league season starting is going to apply a little bit of pressure.
“But more than anything, it’s the opportunities you are given at this level that define what opportunities are next for you.”
Both Jones and Reyes, back in the lineup Wednesday, are 5-for-31 in the last 11 games. Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo, who can’t be sent down without being offered back to the Twins or clearing waivers, is in a 4-for-31 skid with 17 strikeouts.
Baddoo was not in the lineup Tuesday nor Wednesday against left-handed Red Sox starter Martin Perez.
“Pressure is always mounting at this level,” Hinch said. “You should always have a little curiosity about the fact that we’re all replaceable. We are all fighting for our jobs on a daily basis. That’s a lot to put on yourself when you are trying to compete with a clear mind.
"But I don’t think anybody should consider themselves immune from the pressures that can be put on you from the minor leagues.”
Fulmer: Bullpen stabilizer?
Even if things had gone smoother for Michael Fulmer Tuesday night, he wasn’t likely to pitch more than three innings. With the front end of the bullpen wobbling a bit recently, Hinch sees Fulmer as a possible stabilizer, in a variety of roles.
“Part of it is making sure we keep his body together,” Hinch said. “He feels great and he could probably do more. But part of it also is we want to use him in important situations and not just as a starter.”
Case in point was Sunday in New York. The Tigers were down 2-0. Hinch used Gregory Soto, who remains the unnamed closer, to pitch the eighth. But had the Tigers rallied, Hinch was ready to use Fulmer to either close the game in the ninth or pitch the ninth and into extra innings if it was tied.
“I think he’s going to pitch a little more often if we can limit him to one or two or three innings,” Hinch said. “We think that’s the best use for him now both for us and for his health.”
Fulmer didn’t get out of the first inning against the Red Sox Tuesday, though he contributed to that by throwing a potential double-play grounder into center field. He gave up four singles, but wasn’t hit hard. The average exit velocity on balls in play was a mild 87 mph. A couple of the singles were shift-beaters.
He threw 33 pitches, including eight change-ups, which is a pitch he hadn’t featured much this season.
The Tigers' bullpen has the worst ERA (6.60) and allowed the most home runs (20) than any bullpen in baseball. Its 54 walks is seventh most.
And on the road trip alone, Tigers relievers have yielded 24 runs in 22⅔ innings.
No wonder Hinch wants Fulmer down there.
“I have a lot of confidence in those guys,” Hinch said. “I don’t think we’ve performed in the bullpen the way we should or can, nor the way we will. I am surprised by the walks. We’ve offered a lot of free passes out of the pen and it’s snowballed a little bit on the group.”
The Tigers presently have nine relievers, including Fulmer. It is conceivable that one of those front end relievers could be sent back to Toledo to make room for Mazara. With off days scheduled for May 10, May 20 and June 2, the Tigers won’t need a sixth starter for a while.
Around the horn
Robbie Grossman was on base five times Tuesday, drawing two more walks. He's now walked 22 times, becoming the first Tiger since Prince Fielder (24) in 2013 to draw 22 or more walks in his first 29 games of a season. His on-base percentage (.375) is 154 points higher than his batting average (.221).
Tigers at Red Sox
►First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Thursday, Fenway Park, Boston
►TV/radio: BSD, MLBN/97.1
RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-2, 4.50), Tigers: He’s pitched well in his three starts this season. The average exit velocity on balls in play against him is 87.6 mph (mild) and the expected opponents average is .207. What’s been missing, though, are the put-away pitches. He’s getting a 13% whiff rate with his four-seam and 33% with his slider, down from 28% and 43% last year.
RHP Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.63), Red Sox: This guy is a handful with his 97-mph four-seam and 78-mph curve. He also mixes in a splitter and cutter. He's got 32 strikeouts and seven walks and hasn’t allowed a home run in 34⅔ innings this season. This is just his fourth start against the Tigers. He’s 2-0 and allowed four runs in 19 innings.