LAKELAND, Fla. — For the most part, the Tigers had some expectations coming into spring training — yet there’s always a player or two that surprises.
This spring, one of those players is right-hander Angel Nesbitt, a 24-year-old Venezuelan with a wide smile and a firm fastball.
"He’s really impressed me with not only his ability, obviously he can light up a radar gun — but he’s got pretty good command around the zone," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He doesn’t have pinpoint action but he throws strikes, he throws three pitches for strikes and he’s a smart kid. He’s been impressive."
Nesbitt was beyond excited Tuesday night after facing the Yankees.
"I was thinking about throwing to the Yankees every time," Nesbitt said, grinning. "When I was in here, I was thinking about how I’m going to throw because they have a lot of good guys, good hitters. I was thinking about that. I just go to the mound, I say just throw the ball, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Be smart out there and throw what you have to do."
Nesbitt gave up hits to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, but escaped without allowing a run.
It was a bit of a surreal experience for him.
"I watched A-Rod, (Carlos) Beltran," Nesbitt said. "Beltran, I saw him in a video game (Monday). I saw him (in person Tuesday), wow. I was feeling good facing him."
This entire spring has been a bit of a surreal experience for Nesbitt, who was added to the 40-man roster in November.
"I didn’t believe that," Nesbitt said. "When (vice president Al) Avila told me, I was in Valencia, Venezuela. He called me and said, ‘Hey, congratulations you’re on the 40-man.’ I said, ‘Nah,’ because I had a couple problems when I was in the summer league. Now I can see, OK. I was working for that."
Avila told Nesbitt to keep working, which Nesbitt took to heart.
When Nesbitt struggled in an outing recently, he went to pitching coach Jeff Jones, who told him, in essence, to lighten up.
"’For one day? Get out of there, just go to your bed, it’ll be OK,’" Nesbitt said Jones told him. "It’s one day. That happens. It’s baseball."
Despite giving up two hits against the Yankees, Ausmus thought he was fine.
"He used all of his pitches," Ausmus said. "He had a good cutter, excellent change-up. He still throws strikes, he’s around the strike zone. His last two outings weren’t as great as his previous outings but (Tuesday) night was not a bad outing."
Ausmus said he would also trust what Alex Avila, who caught the outing, saw from his perspective.
"It was good that a couple guys got on," Avila said. "As a guy out of the bullpen, most of the time you’re coming in in the middle of an inning with guys on base so that was a good test to see how he reacts to that. I’ll definitely absolutely call pitches to see if he can locate certain pitches in certain situations in certain counts and not just rely on just throwing all fastballs.
"He’s impressed me. He’s impressed me quite a bit."
Although Nesbitt has a good fastball, he agrees with Avila that he can’t rely on it too much.
"My fastball is the first pitch," Nesbitt said. "After that, I can say my change-up is the next pitch. And I work with a couple pitches more, like cutter, slider. I have to throw all pitches for a strike too. In big leagues with these guys, it’s not fastball every time. You have to throw your pitches and you have to smart with your fastball and secondary pitches. That’s what you have to do."
Nesbitt pitched for Single-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie last season.
With the Flying Tigers, Nesbitt was 2-0 with an 0.79 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 24 games, making both the Florida State League’s mid-season and postseason All-Star teams.
With the Seawolves, Nesbitt was 1-0 with a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 24 games.
"You don’t see it too often, for a young guy like him that has that type of stuff, he’s got a really good idea how to pitch," Avila said. "He’s not just up there throwing as hard as he can. That’s not something you see every day. Normally a guy has to develop a little longer and figure out more how to pitch with the type of stuff that he has and he has a pretty good idea."
Nesbitt said he’s always picking the brains of pitchers like Anibal Sanchez and David Price, and even hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
"They have a lot of time in the big leagues so I have to learn," Nesbitt said. "This spring training showed me how to control. You can throw 100 but (if it’s) high, everybody can hit it. If you throw 95-97 but down in the zone, you have more (success)."
Nesbitt made his ninth spring appearance Thursday, more than any other pitcher on the current roster except for Joe Nathan.
After a scoreless 2/3 of an inning, Nesbitt lowered his ERA to 3.00 in nine innings.
While the Tigers’ bullpen appears to be pretty set with right-handers Nathan, Joakim Soria, Bruce Rondon, Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque, the fact that Nesbitt is still with the big league club means he still has a chance.
"I think he’s pretty close," Avila said. "I think his stuff no doubt can get major league hitters out right now. It’s just a matter of if Brad and Jonesy think he can help us win."
Nesbitt knows that decision is out of his control.
"I don’t know if I’m going to make the team or not," Nesbitt said. "Just my control is throw the ball and do my work is what I have to do."
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