March 19th, 2013

Tuesday: What is going on with Doug Fister?

Doug Fister (AP)

Doug Fister (AP)

Yeah, I know, it’s only Spring Training. I’ve seen terrible camps turn into very good seasons for starting pitchers (Max Scherzer 2010), and I’ve seen great camps yield pretty bad seasons (Rick Porcello 2010, Daniel Schlereth 2012). I know a pitcher completely out of rhythm for most of spring can find his mechanics at the end and dominate.

That, obviously, is what the Tigers hope happens with Doug Fister.

In fairness, if you look at Fister’s career Spring Training stats on his player page at MLB.com, his dominant spring last year was an outlier amidst a history of March mediocrity. This is what the Mariners saw from him in their camps. It fits with Fister’s observation that Spring Training is usually a process for him as he builds up towards Opening Day.

That said, the only building so far has been the pitch count. Fister’s work on getting his mechanics down and finding his fastball command has been a lot of labor and little to no progress.

“That’s the biggest thing for me, finding the sinker consistency,” Fister said after Tuesday’s loss, “and it’s not there. It’s been something that I’ve focused on and I’ll continue to work on. It’s just a feel thing. There are times when it’s there and there are times when it’s not, so it’s just a matter of being consistent.”

It’s a release point issue, he says, but it’s not overall command. It’s just his fastball.

“I felt comfortable with the changeups that I threw,” Fister said. “I felt good with the curveball. And even the cutter is coming along. It’s just a matter of being consistent with the sinker. I feel like it’s there. It’s just a matter of being able to repeat it over and over again.”

I couldn’t watch the broadcast, so I didn’t have a constant watch on the velocity on Fister’s pitches. The home-run ball, though, seemed like it was pretty low. Other times, Fister looked to be hitting the low 90s. So it appears the inconsistency might have also been reflected in the velocity.

Fister has two more starts left this spring to get things ironed out. The fact that he has had rough springs like this before and gone on to enjoy the regular season consistency that has been a trademark of his career so far gives every reason to expect he can get through it this time too — as long as he’s healthy, which is believed to be the case.

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Rays (on tee vee)

If it’s a game late in camp on Fox Sports Detroit, it’s an Opening Day lineup. Jim Leyland said yesterday he’s going to watch how much his regulars play today, so don’t expect them to go the full distance. That won’t start happening until after Wednesday’s off-day, the unofficial start to the home stretch of the spring.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Doug Fister, Kyle Lobstein, Luke Putkonen, Darin Downs, Phil Coke

RAYS

  1. Desmond Jennings, CF
  2. Ben Zobrist, SS
  3. Matt Joyce, LF
  4. Luke Scott, RF
  5. Sean Rodriguez, 2B
  6. Jack Cust, DH
  7. Ryan Roberts, 3B
  8. Chris Gimenez, 1B
  9. Jose Lobaton, C

P: Jeremy Hellickson, Kyle Farnsworth, Dane De La Rosa, Will Inman, J.D. Martin

Tigers send down Castellanos, seven others

No matter how well Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos hit in camp, he was headed to Triple-A Toledo. The way he hit, though, he shouldn’t be there for long.

The expected move came Tuesday, with Castellanos as one of eight cuts from the Tigers’ spring roster. As a non-roster invitee, he was sent to minor-league camp along with reliever Trevor Bell, infielder Argenis Diaz and outfielder Tyler Collins.

Among those on the 40-man roster, second base prospect Hernan Perez was optioned to Double-A Erie. Catcher Bryan Holaday, right-hander Jose Ortega and left-hander Duane Below were optioned to Toledo. The moves trim the Tigers camp roster to 37 players with 13 days left until they open the season at Minnesota.

None of the moves was a surprise — not even Castellanos, despite his spring tear. The 21-year-old went 9-for-25 with two doubles, a home run and six RBIs this spring, his first with the big-league club. However, it would’ve taken an incredible set of circumstance to turn that into a spot on Opening Day roster.

“I did well, and they told me I made a good impression,” Castellanos said Tuesday morning on his way out.

Though Castellanos came in with an opportunity to compete for a Major League job, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski made it clear before camp that they wouldn’t take Castellanos or fellow outfield prospect Avisail Garcia north with them just to serve as a bench player. They’d have to get enough playing time to justify the move and not hinder their development.

That was a particular concern for Castellanos, who converted from third base to right field last summer and then shifted over to left in the fall. With Andy Dirks ticketed for the bulk of the playing time in left, and the Tigers’ need becoming more clear as a right-handed hitter to mix in with Dirks rather than platoon, the numbers didn’t fit.

“I was realistic about it, just knowing this is an incredibly difficult team to make, just because the amount of good players on it,” Castellanos said. “Sure, just with me performing well and everything, maybe they would reconsider. But still, I thought it was a long shot regardless.”

One of the instructions the Tigers gave Castellanos, he said, was that they want him to feel as comfortable in the outfield as he does in the batters box. He’ll serve as the regular left fielder with the Mud Hens as he begins his third professional season at age 21.

The Tigers have turned to Toledo early in the season for outfield help in three of the past five seasons. Matt Joyce got the call just a month into the 2008 season, while Brennan Boesch turned a torrid spring into a shot at the Majors by the end of April in 2010 as an injury replacement. Castellanos has put himself in a position to do the same.

One level below him will be Collins, who made a similarly strong impression in his first Major League camp. The 22-year-old went 10-for-29 with two doubles, two triples, a home run and five RBIs.

Of the pitchers, Below came to camp with the best chance at making the 25-man roster, having opened last season in Detroit. The Tigers have a need for both a long reliever and a second left-hander, and Below fits the profile for both.

However, the 27-year-old had by far his worst spring of his three seasons in Major League camp, allowing 11 runs on 14 hits in just eight innings. He’ll most likely rejoin the rotation at Toledo for a third season.

How Berry’s injury, Kelly’s opt-out might help shape Tigers roster

The note was so minute when Don Kelly signed his minor-league contract with a camp invite, it might have gotten overlooked. Indeed, Kelly came back to his old club to compete for his old job, but he also made sure to get an opt-out clause that would allow him to ask for his release if he doesn’t make the team at the end of camp, just in case there was another opportunity out there for him.

There wasn’t much made of it at the time because you had to consider what the chances were of a positional roster spot coming down to the final days of camp, especially with Kelly. It’s looking like a real chance now, and as the Tigers contemplate how they’re going to shape their Opening Day roster, Kelly’s opt-out clause and Quintin Berry’s lingering knee soreness might get some decisions made on the positional side before the final few games of camp.

Kelly’s opt-out means the Tigers have to let him know of their plans for him next week ahead of the end of camp, if he’s indeed going to be added to the 25-man roster or if they want him to consider a minor league assignment. That way, Kelly can check the landscape and decide whether to opt out with enough time to have a chance to land with another team before Opening Day rosters have to be set. Essentially, that means the Tigers also have to make a decision or two on guys with whom Kelly is competing for a spot on the bench — such as Berry. They’re both left-handed hitters competing for the roster spot not taken up by the right-handed hitting outfielder Jim Leyland wants to carry. Another player in that category could be utility infielder Danny Worth.

Berry left Sunday’s game and missed Monday’s trip with a recurrence of the patellar tendintis that sidelined him for two weeks earlier in camp before he returned to game action about a week ago. If that injury lingers a few days, it’s going to be very difficult to determine with much confidence by early next week whether Berry’s ready to go for the start of the season. Berry, for what it’s worth, has minor-league options left.

Kelly already seems like he has an inside track for a roster spot before the opt-out leverage. The Tigers could keep both Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus and utilityman Matt Tuiasosopo, but they both bat right-handed, which would leave switch-hitting infielder Ramon Santiago and switch-hitting backup catcher Brayan Pena as the only left-handed bats available off the bench. And Leyland isn’t going to pinch-hit with Pena unless he’s coming in to catch, because Leyland dreads being caught having to move Victor Martinez behind the plate and sacrifice his designated hitter if somebody gets injured (yes, Kelly could fill that emergency catcher role, too).

In any case, Kelly finds himself in pretty good position for somebody who came to camp looking like a longer shot to make the team. If camp broke today, he’d have a pretty good shot to make the team. The Tigers don’t have to decide that today, or tomorrow, or this week, but they still have to decide his fate a little sooner than normal.

Other notes from Monday’s win over the Nationals:

  • A tweet from somebody Monday afternoon made a very good point: Those who cried panic at closer for the Tigers after three outings from Bruce Rondon and asked whether Detroit could make a move in time for the trip to Port St. Lucie the following week can’t easily dismiss what he has done since. In five outings since pitching coach Jeff Jones’ side session with Rondon to look over his mechanics, Rondon has five scoreless innings on four hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He didn’t chew up the middle of the Nationals order Monday, but the fact that he maneuvered through it without solid contact from Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman or Adam LaRoche, and with strikeouts for his last two outs, is a pretty significant addition to his body of work this spring. I’m not going to say just yet that he’s going to get the full-time closer’s job out of camp, but if you’re saying he’s not ready for the big leagues at all, your argument is become more detached from the actual pitching.
  • Somebody in the comments section on the notebook on the site today hung onto Leyland’s remark that a versatile long reliever is worth his weight in gold, and asked if that was literally possible. That got me thinking about Joaquin Benoit, currently Detroit’s highest-paid reliever at $5.5 million this year. Take his listed weight of 220 pounds and factor in the price of gold at around $1600 per ounce after today’s economic news out of Europe, and Benoit’s weight in gold would be worth $5,632,000. That is amazingly close. And no, I won’t calculate Rondon’s weight in gold.
  • The sight of Prince Fielder in an all-out dive through the air to try to tag Jayson Werth before he could scramble back to first base has to terrify some baseball people in spring training. It’s still a tremendous hustle play from one of the highest-paid players in the game.
  • The Tigers are on Fox Sports Detroit on Tuesday, but Leyland said he’ll watch his regulars’ innings for that game heading into the off-day. The next FSD broadcast Thursday night, after the off-day Wednesday, is when you’ll see the regulars start playing full games.
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