DETROIT — From the very brief good-news category in the Detroit Tigers file: They may have found a solid middle/late reliever.
Brayan Villarreal, called up after Wednesday night’s game because of Jose Valverde’s lower back strain, pitched two scoreless innings in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Villarreal allowed one hit while walking one and striking out four, regularly hitting 98 miles an hour with his fastball.
“He was throwing the ball really good at Toledo and that would be a big plus for us if he can throw like that — he was terrific today,” manager Jim Leyland said. “That would be huge for us. Obviously, it’s a move you don’t want to make but you have to make, due to the fact that Valverde’s day to day. But he was terrific today.”
In five appearances with the Tigers this season, Villarreal has not allowed an earned run, although he has been prone to wildness.
With the Toledo Mud Hens, Villarreal, who turned 25 a week ago, was 0-0 with a 1.29 ERA in eight outings. He allowed just two runs on five hits in 14 innings, walking seven and striking out 22. Opponents were batting just .125 against him.
Jose Valverde, who had to leave Tuesday’s game in Chicago with a lower back strain, is encouraged with his progress since the injury.
“I feel much better today,” Valverde said after Thursday’s game. “I do all my stuff I’ve got to do and check (Friday) how I feel. Everything’s going so far what I want to. I’ll be OK to pitch this weekend.”
The training staff has been busy working on Valverde and center fielder Austin Jackson, who left Wednesday night’s game after the fourth inning with a mild abdominal strain.
“Just treatment, just ice and stim (electric stimulation) and like a little laser treatment to kind of warm it up,” Jackson said after Thursday’s game. “That’s pretty much all I did today.”
Jackson said he felt about the same as he did Wednesday night.
“I didn’t really expect to feel any different today,” Jackson said. “It’s still a little sore. I think it’s just going to take a few days to really get a good idea of how it feels when I start moving around and twisting and bending, things like that.”
The Tigers could use Jackson as soon as he can return; he is second on the team to Andy Dirks with a .331 average, leads the team with 29 runs scored and 10 doubles. He’s also tied with Dirks for the team lead with two triples.
Dirks had a solo home run Thursday and his .369 batting average leads the team.
This month, Dirks has been hitting a torrid .423.
“I’m seeing the ball and hitting it and it’s finding holes,” Dirks said. “That’s the game. Sometimes they’re in the hole, sometimes they’re not.”
Fellow outfielder Brennan Boesch also had a solo homer, the Tigers’ first hit and run off of Minnesota’s P.J. Walters. Boesch now has a season-high 10-game hitting streak.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates come to town, a couple of people familiar to Tigers fans will be with them.
Former Tigers reliever Jason Grilli now pitches for the Pirates. Grilli, who was born in Royal Oak, Mich., played for the Tigers from 2005-08.
Neil Walker, the Pirates’ second baseman, is Don Kelly’s brother-in-law.
Tigers fans may not be as familiar with outfielder Nate McLouth, who has played for Pittsburgh and Atlanta his entire career, but he is a Michigan native as well, hailing from Muskegon.