Tigers’ VerHagen set to make MLB debut

DETROIT — It’s been a quick trip through the Tigers’ minor-league system for Drew VerHagen.

VerHagen, 23, was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft in 2012 out of Vanderbilt University. 

With Saturday’s day-night doubleheader, the Tigers needed a spot starter and VerHagen got the nod for the early game.

VerHagen found out when he was at home during the break.

"My phone was dead," VerHagen said. "I turned on my phone to two voicemails and then got the voicemail from my manager in Toledo (Larry Parrish) and talked to him and I was just obviously thrilled at the opportunity, just really happy and went straight in and told my dad. It’s a little emotional and I was really excited. It was a good moment."

Because they had a little advance notice thanks to the All-Star break, VerHagen’s family and friends were able to book flights to Detroit so they could be there. 

VerHagen expects 20-25 family members and friends to be at Comerica Park Saturday.

With the Toledo Mud Hens, VerHagen is 6-7 with a 3.67 ERA in 19 starts. 

"I started off a little slow and about a month into the season turned it around," VerHagen said. "These last few starts, I’ve felt really good. It’s gone well."

VerHagen has allowed just seven earned runs in his last four starts, compared to 13 in the four starts before that.

"I think just, me and Al Nipper, the pitching coach down there, worked on smoothing out my delivery, making everything on time in my delivery and also worked a lot on both my offspeed pitches, changeup and curveball, and improving the command of those helped a lot," VerHagen said.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander made an impression in spring training.

 "I remember he’s got a good sinking fastball and that’s really it," Alex Avila said. "I only caught him one time. From what I remember, he’s got a good, live fastball."

During spring training, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said VerHagen looked like a "young Ben Affleck." 

Ausmus also liked VerHagen’s presence on the mound.

"His poise was one," Ausmus said, when asked what he liked about him. "Then probably a combination of his sinker and his curveball."

During spring training, VerHagen and catcher James McCann met with performers from Cirque Italia for a video that was shown during the morning meeting.

"We set it up," VerHagen said in February. "We asked one of the guys if he knew (Justin) Verlander and he said no, asked if he knew (Max) Scherzer and he said no. Then we asked him if he knew Drew Smyly and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, the shooter, the big shooter!’ He said, ‘He’s very famous in our country (Russia).’"

That’s the kind of thing that helped the Tigers get to know VerHagen, making it much easier for him when he arrived Friday.

"I think that helps a lot, just with being comfortable in the clubhouse and just seeing these guys again, it wasn’t as intimidating walking into the clubhouse," VerHagen said.

VerHagen will likely be nervous Saturday but Avila will be there to help him out.

"The main part for me and (pitching coach Jeff Jones) as well, we’ve talked about it a lot of times when guys are making their debut is not to give them so much information," Avila said. "Go out there and pitch your game, let me worry about hitters and game plans, things like that."

At least VerHagen does not have to worry about helping the Tigers out of a jam as they came out of the All-Star break with a 6 1/2 game-lead in the Central Division.

"We definitely pay attention to these guys down in Toledo, so it makes it makes it more exciting because they’re playing well," VerHagen said. "I think it’s a good time to join the team, so I was happy with that."