JUPITER, Fla. — There’s something different, something definitely intimidating, about most effective relief pitchers.
Ian Krol, the Detroit Tigers’ new lefty out of the bullpen, has that confidence and manner in spades. He’s got a thick beard, stern expression and pitches like his car is double-parked.
"The way he pitches, it seems like he’s kind of a gunslinger," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He’s going out there six guns shooting. He’s ready to go, and he does not seem like he’s intimidated by a situation or afraid of a hitter. Those are intangibles that are sometimes tough to come by in young pitchers."
Krol, 23, began last season at Double-A Harrisburg and dominated. Then he appeared in five games for Triple-A Syracuse and was called up by the Washington Nationals. He was 2-1 with a 3.95 ERA in 27 1/3 innings with 22 strikeouts and eight walks in the majors.
And every step of the way, he goes at it in a hurry like former St. Louis Cardinals reliever Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky or Los Angeles Dodgers Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
"Always rapid fire," Krol said, smiling. "Come in, guns blazing."
Krol pitched a 1-2-3 inning Sunday against the Florida Marlins and has given up one hit in four innings in Grapefruit League games, while striking out five and walking one.
He was acquired in the Doug Fister trade, and is the one sure-thing southpaw in Detroit’s bullpen. Phil Coke, who pitches on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Lakeland, needs to get on track soon if he hopes to stick.
Coke has a 9.00 ERA and opponents are hitting .474 against him, and that’s coming off going 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA and .291 opponent average. Even left-handers are hitting him now.
Asked if he was wed to a two-lefty bullpen, Ausmus said, "I’m not. I do think it helps; it’s beneficial. But you have to put your best team, your best bullpen in the stadium."
Last year, Krol had right-handers hit .304 off him with four homers in 56 at-bats. But he limited lefties to a .220 average and one homer in 50 at-bats.
So, does Ausmus see Krol as a situational lefty or a one-inning reliever?
"He has the ability to get right- and left-handed hitters out," Ausmus said. "So, theoretically, there’s no reason he can’t pitch an inning."
And despite lacking statistical proof of his ability to be successful against righties, Krol also is confident in his ability to get the job done against anybody.
"To be honest with you, every at-bat is important," Krol said. "Left-handed, right-handed — it doesn’t matter. You’re trying to go out there and do your job. But for me, I think I should be able to go out and get righties out as easily as I get lefties out. I shouldn’t be (restricted to) a lefty-on-lefty situation. I’ll go in there and face everybody. Every pitch is as important as the next one."
And an improved curveball fuels that attitude.
"My breaking ball has come a long way," Krol said. "I’ve been able to throw it in different counts. (Sunday), I threw a 3-2 breaking ball. I’ve been able to locate it, throw it for strikes, backdoor it inside. That was the main goal I focused on in the offseason."
He was excited about coming to the Tigers along with left-handed starter prospect Robbie Ray and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi for Fister — who missed a start Friday with a sore elbow. An MRI revealed only inflammation, according to reports.
Krol used to come in to relieve Nationals stars Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, and now will do so for Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.
"You feed off them," Krol said of the superstar pitchers. "It’s been crazy, and a dream come true. You grow up a big baseball fan and hope one day your dream comes true, and mine has."
"Three innings is what we’re hoping," Ausmus said. "Verlander’s all-systems-go right now."
Verlander had core muscle repair surgery Jan. 9 that slightly slowed his normal spring routine.