Chris McCosky | The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — Derek Holland, for one, was fired up to pitch in front of actual, human beings Sunday.
“I wish I could say the exact words to describe how it felt,” said the veteran lefty trying to win a spot in the Tigers bullpen as a non-roster invitee. “It’s everything we want. We want to have the fans back. Just to have that atmosphere. Just hearing those people — they could be cheering us or they could be booing us. It just felt good to have them back.”
Holland pitched a scoreless inning in the Tigers 10-2 Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium.
“I felt like my stuff was where I need it to be,” said Holland, who got a pair of rollover groundouts and a strikeout in his 19-pitch inning. “I’ve got to continue improve. I saw a few things I wasn’t really pleased with but we got the results we needed. I’m happy about it.”
His fastball velocity, as it was read by the stadium radar gun, was hitting 93-94 mph.
“That baby was cooking,” he said. “It was good. I felt everything was good, that’s the main thing. Being healthy in the offseason was huge and coming here, getting this opportunity — I want to make the most of it.”
Ironically, the player his fate is mostly entwined with in terms of making the roster — Tyler Alexander –— got the start and gave up two runs in two innings, including a lead-off home run to Adam Haseley on his second pitch of the game.
“That was definitely different; being that we’re at home and I give up a leadoff home run and I have fans cheering,” Alexander said. “That’s something that wouldn’t normally happen. But it was great to hear people.”
The home run came off a cutter and double by Mickey Moniak came off a two-strike slider. Otherwise, Alexander was crisp. Of his 30 pitches, 21 were strikes.
Holland’s best chance of making the team out of spring is if Alexander can win a spot in the Tigers’ rotation. There is a long way to go before there is any clarity with that.
Another veteran lefty trying to win a spot, Ian Krol, pitched a clean, 13-pitch fifth inning, posting two strikeouts.
Tigers shortstop Willi Castro countered Haseley’s lead-off homer with a monster blast into the bullpen in right center leading off the bottom of the first. Castro hit a 93 mph fastball from former Tiger Ivan Nova 458 feet. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 110.6 mph.
It didn’t get any better for Nova. He would only get one out, giving up five runs and three hits. The Tigers drew five walks in the first inning, three with the bases loaded.
Catcher Eric Haase and infielder Daniel Pinero also homered for the Tigers.
There was a downside to the day, from a fan perspective. Lakeland police had to forcibly escort an unruly fan out of the stadium in the sixth inning. The crowd cheered the police.
Jumped the gun
You can’t blame manager AJ Hinch for being a little quick to put Isaac Paredes into a lineup. The 22-year-old Paredes, coming off a strong winter in Mexico, hasn’t been able to participate in camp because of travel and visa delays and COVID-19 intact testing.
But Hinch thought Sunday was going to be his first day and wrote him on the lineup card, among the right-handed hitting reserves.
“That was my error,” Hinch said. “He’s completed his intact tests but he has to do a physical, and he can’t do one on Sunday. We’re not expecting any issues, but this was going to be his first day. Looks like it will be (Monday).”
Paredes, who made his debut with the Tigers last season (34 games), hit .379 and had a 1.06 OPS helping his team win the Mexican winter league title. He cooled off in the Caribbean World Series, going 2 for 20.
Depending on what happens at first base for the Tigers, Paredes has a chance to win a roster spot at third base. The more likely scenario, though, is that he starts the season at Triple A.
Just be good
The Tigers, as they will for most spring games, brought some extra pitchers over from mini-camp. Right-handers Drew Carlton, Robbie Ross, Jr., and Logan Shore were called over Sunday, as was side-armer Nolan Blackwood.
Hinch was asked about the importance of having the option of a reliever who throws with a different arm angle.
“It depends on how good you are,” he said. “I’d rather have good over a different style. I focus on impact, less on different looks. Now, if you can be good and different, that’s a good strength to have.”