DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers will be going with an extra bullpen pitcher and one less player on the bench for the "short-term" future.
Hard-throwing, right-handed reliever Justin Miller, who had been closing for Toledo, was called up from the Mud Hens before Friday night’s game with the Los Angeles Angels. Outfielder Tyler Collins, who was batting .143 with 14 at-bats after 12 games, was sent down to Toledo.
The first call to the big leagues had special significance for Miller, 26, who said it came on the anniversary date of his April 18, 2012, Tommy John surgery.
"Any time’s a good time, and getting called up is great," Miller said. "But at this time two years ago exactly, I was going under the knife."
He pointed to the area of one incision between his palm and wrist, then rolled up his right sleeve to show a scar inside his elbow that was smaller (about four inches long) and less pronounced than most Tommy John surgery scars.
Miller was a minor leaguer with the Texas Rangers when he had the surgery performed by Rangers team physician Keith Meister. Miller said Meister’s "steady hand" enabled his more streamlined approach to ligament-repair surgery, and noted that he’s finally recovered.
Miller had to sit out 2012 and was slow to respond physically in 2013. He posted a 7.67 ERA in 27 minor-league games, finished the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain, and wasn’t re-signed. Detroit signed him as a minor-eague free agent.
His mechanics weren’t sound during spring training, and the Tigers sent him down early in camp. But he impressed Toledo manager Larry Parrish, allowing no runs on three hits with one walk in 4 2/3 innings for the Mud Hens. Miller also struck out six and converted his lone save opportunity.
"He threw well there," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "And his slider was a lot more consistent than it was in spring training."
Miller said Toledo pitching coach Al Nipper corrected his delivery "alignment" by adjusting how he set up his back foot on the pitching rubber. Miller also improved the deceptiveness of his slider by correcting his arm slot to show the pitch to hitters later in his delivery. The spin on the pitch had been too easy to pick up.
"And I was just going after guys — attacking the zone," Miller said of his appearances in Toledo.
Parrish broke the news to Miller by saying he was no longer the closer because he was going to pitch earlier in games in Detroit. That confused Miller before Parrish blurted out: "You are going to be called up!"
Miller said, "I said, ‘What?’ And I freaked out."
After telling his girlfriend outside the Toledo clubhouse, he called his father in California. He said that his dad, grandparents and uncle are flying in for Friday night’s game.
Ausmus said the move made sense because Collins, a left-handed hitter, wasn’t getting much action with right-handed Rajai Davis tied for eighth in the American League with a .333 batting average and hitting righties well. There’s no need for a platoon in left field.
Collins’ departure means Ausmus will have only three bench players. But he noted that the Angels have no left-handers in the bullpen, which limits pinch-hitting moves, and added that Don Kelly’s position versatility enables him to maneuver easily enough.
"Long-term, I don’t want to be shorthanded on the bench," Ausmus said. "But short-term, we felt we needed the extra arm."
Detroit’s bullpen pitchers have thrown eight innings in the last two games. Friday night’s starter, Drew Smyly, was making his first start of the season and is unlikely to pitch deep into the game.
Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said shortstop Jose Iglesias (stress fractures in both shins), reliever Bruce Rondon (Tommy John surgery) and left fielder Andy Dirks (back surgery) are rehabilitating in Florida.
"Jose’s at home in Miami doing swimming and biking with upper body (weight training) work," Rand said. "Dirks is in Lakeland doing his aquatic rehab and trunk (work). Rondon is in Lakeland, working on a full range of motion."
Rand said Dirks will be reevaluated early next month, while no date has been set on Iglesias being re-examined. Late July was the earlier indication for Iglesias to revisit a specialist. Rondon is out for the season.
AROUND THE HORN: Former Tigers left-handed pitcher Jose Alvarez was optioned to Salt Lake City before the game, and the Angels recalled right-hander Josh Wall. Another ex-Detroit player, outfielder Brennan Boesch, was called up by the Angels on Wednesday. … Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera turned 31 on Friday, and there was a chocolate cake to celebrate the day in his locker stall. … Victor Martinez, with one whiff in 46 plate appearances, has been the hardest hitter to strike out in the American League. … Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, who is five away from the 500-homer milestone, gave Ausmus a bear hug from behind during batting practice. Ausmus and Pujols competed in the Houston Astros-St. Louis Cardinals rivalry in the middle of the last decade.