Worth gets rare shot in bullpen in Tigers' loss
MAY 22, 2014 7:19p ET
Robbie Ray, who entered the game with a 0.75 ERA and left with it bloated to 4.70, will be headed down to Triple-A Toledo on Friday. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus announced that top relief prospect Corey Knebel, drafted only 11 months ago out of the University of Texas, is coming up.
And for Danny Worth, normally a shortstop, it was a matter of warming up in the bullpen before coming down on the Rangers with his knuckleball.
Worth, who said he started toying with the knuckler as a 10-year-old, struck out Michael Choice (swinging) and Leonys Martin (called strike) with the trick pitch. He pitched a scoreless inning by allowing only a single to leadoff batter Chris Gimenez on his lone fastball that came in at 87 mph.
What was left of the sellout crowd of 40,768 at Comerica Park cheered every out. But they got on their feet with a 2-2 count on Martin and two out and gave Worth a standing ovation when he fanned Martin.
"It was awesome," Worth said of the fan support. "It was amping me up. They were behind me."
Between strikeouts, Worth got Luis Sardinas to hit an opposite-field liner to left-fielder Don Kelly, who had been the last Detroit position player to pitch on June 29, 2011. Kelly stayed on the mound for only one out, and Shane Halter walked the only batter he faced on Oct. 1, 2000, when he played all nine positions.
According to Chad Crunk of the Tigers media relations department, Detroit's last primarily position player to pitch a full inning or more was Mark Koenig on Sept. 22, 1931. He pitched four scoreless innings, allowing three hits and six walks with one strikeout. Koenig played 90 games that year at second base or shortstop and pitched in three games. Koenig also was the starting shortstop on the 1927 New York Yankees many consider the best all-time team.
Walks were the main problem for Koenig, and also the primary concern of Worth, who said he had even more break on the knuckler in the bullpen.
"I just wanted to throw strikes," Worth said. "I didn't want to walk the world."
He was so impressive that Ausmus said he likely will have Worth throw a bullpen session "every 10 days or two weeks" in order to have him build up his fingers in case he's needed to pitch again. Worth said his fingers were "sore" after throwing 19 knucklers.
"Shoot, he pitched well," said Ausmus. "...If he can do it on a part-time basis."
Tigers setup reliever Joba Chamberlain was asked if he every toyed with a knuckler.
"I warm up with it every day," Chamberlain said, "but it doesn't do that -- what Danny's ball did."
Ausmus told Worth that he might be used on the mound during the fifth inning. Ray had been knocked out in the fourth inning, and reliever Evan Reed was struggling before Phil Coke got an inning-ending double play in the fifth. Coke had thrown 62 pitches in the previous three days, but volunteered because the bullpen was strapped from recent over-use.
“Shoot, he pitched well...If he can do it on a part-time basis.”
"It was a lot of fun," Worth said. "But I wished I wasn't out there. I wished we'd been ahead."
Ray, 22, gave up seven runs on nine hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings. He couldn't command his fastball, and his usually potent changeup wasn't doing anything. Neither was his project curveball.
However, the last start for Ray had been 11 days prior. Starters are creatures of habit, and not going every fifth day saps their efficiency. Even a seasoned pro like Justin Verlander has distinctly lesser statistics when pitching with extra rest.
But Ray wouldn't use it as an alibi, saying, "It didn't affect me. I knew I had to be prepared."
Getting two outs and facing three Red Sox at Boston in relief was all Ray had done in a game over the last 10 days. But he was kept as insurance that Anibal Sanchez, coming off the disabled list, was OK. Then he stayed to get Thursday's start to allow Rick Porcello (left side tightness) a couple extra days before making Saturday's start. Ausmus said Ray was ticketed for Toledo regardless of how this start went.
"The breaking ball is obviously the No. 1 thing on the list," Ausmus said of what Ray needs to work on. "...But he didn't seem intimidated or daunted by pitching in the major leagues."
Now it's Knebel's turn. He's also 22 with a bright future, having struck out four in four scoreless innings with Toledo after posting a 1.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in 15 innings for Double-A Erie.
Ausmus didn't know if Knebel would be up just long enough to allow Justin Miller to return after the allotted 10 days he must spend in the minors after being sent down Sunday.
"It depends on how he pitches," Ausmus said. "But he won't be closing games...To think he's going to be a power, back-end-of-the-bullpen pitcher is unrealistic. He still has things to learn."
However, Ausmus allowed, "The thing you hear is how good this kid's stuff is."
Knebel, who Ausmus said was a "long-shot" to make the team right down to the last preseason game, is supposed to have everything going for him -- except a knuckler.