Tigers prospect Corey Knebel thrashed in debut
MAY 24, 2014 8:03p ET
DETROIT -- The game got away from the Detroit Tigers, but even a rout like Saturday's 12-2 loss to the Texas Rangers can provide a special moment. And this game -- after Rick Porcello unraveled in an attempt to win his seventh consecutive start -- did just that.
It was phenom versus phenom in the seventh inning with the bases loaded.
It was Tigers reliever Corey Knebel, 22, facing Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor, 20, with no room for error for the pitcher making his major league debut.
They battled for seven pitches, and the count was full when Odor crushed a fastball to the gap in right-center to score three runs with his first big league triple. The kid with the hard-to-pronounce first name (ruff-NED) got the best of the kid with the challenging last name (kuh-NAY-bull).
It had been rough going for Rougned since getting called up. He was batting .194 entering the game, but showed off his quick bat and speed on the triple.
“I'll come in tomorrow with a smile on my face. Today, I'm a little down.”
It certainly was a tough first game for Knebel, who can be excused for this one. The butterflies have been known to get the best of players the first time they pitch before 43,447 fans at Comerica Park.
"I was a little amped up -- first time in the big leagues," Knebel said.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus added, "He didn't seem to be panting or sweating profusely, though."
The plus-curveball and electric fastball Knebel features weren't very evident in this game. His fastball was 93-95 mph and hittable. He mixed it up at first, but then relied too much on the heater because it was all he had. He threw six fastballs on those seven pitches to Odor, who laced the last one like he knew it was coming.
"That was just me getting behind and leaving a fastball up," Knebel said of the Odor matchup. "I could not get my curveball over. But next time, I'll make my pitches."
Knebel backed up third base and looked a little stunned after the bases cleared. He walked back to the mound and waited for Ausmus to meet him there and ask for the ball. His day was over, and his first line in a box score wasn't one he'll want to frame: one inning, three hits, three earned runs, two walks and one strikeout.
"He threw hard," Ausmus surmised. "His curveball was good."
But Ausmus then added that Knebel needed to stay "on a downward angle" in his delivery in order to "not hang" curves.
Catcher Alex Avila concurred that Knebel threw some good curves, but didn't set up hitters with it.
"You have to throw one (curve) for strikes," Avila said. "And you have to throw one curve that looks like a strike and falls out of the zone. That is going to be important for him."
Knebel said his curve was "a little loopy" and not what he wanted.
Still, his first inning, in relief of Porcello, wasn't bad.
"The thing I was happiest about was getting a first-pitch strike," said Knebel, who got ahead, 0-2, on Elvis Andrus before turning a come-backer into a force out.
Then Mitch Moreland doubled to score one run. He got dangerous Adrian Beltre after, though, picking up a one-hop liner that ricocheted off him. Knebel threw to first baseman Miguel Cabrera to end the inning.
"Brad Ausmus gave me a little tap when I got to the dugout," Knebel said. "Then he said, 'Good job.' "
But then Alex Rios opened the sixth inning with a single. Knebel struck out Chris Gimenez and tossed in the ball as a keepsake. However, Knebel then walked both Leonys Martin and Donnie Murphy to load the bases.
You know what happened after that.
There will be another chance coming soon for Knebel. Ausmus isn't going to lose confidence in a pitcher who caught his eye in spring training, and has wowed everyone in the organization ever since being selected out of the University of Texas last June with the No. 39 pick in the amateur draft.
"I'll come in tomorrow with a smile on my face," said Knebel. "Today, I'm a little down."
The kid has a million-dollar smile to go with that million-dollar stuff, but command is the name of the game in pitching. On Saturday, "amped up" in his debut, Knebel struggled to find it.
Keep in mind that first impressions are important in job interviews, but not so much in baseball.
Mariano Rivera, in his debut for the New York Yankees on May 23, 1995 in Anaheim against the Angels, gave up five runs on eight hits over three innings. He recovered from that to set the record with 652 saves.