Lakeland, Fla. — Derek Holland had been forewarned.
Pitching coach Chris Fetter had told him and the other relievers that manager AJ Hinch was looking to throw them into the fire. He was looking to challenge them by sending them into pressure situations.
“He said we were going to start treating these like real games,” Holland said. “We have to get the guys to get that feeling. I wasn’t expecting it to be like that, but, excuse my language, but I (expletive) love that.”
Holland was summoned to rescue starter Michael Fulmer, who had loaded the bases with nobody out in the third inning of the Tigers 7-4 spring loss to the Yankees on Tuesday. Challenge accepted, challenge met.
Holland, throwing 94- and 95-mph fastballs, struck out Mike Tauchman and Tyler Wade looking at called third strikes. Then he dispatched Rob Brantly, the third straight left-handed hitter, on a ground ball to second.
“I’m fighting for a job,” Holland said. “I want to make sure every time I go out there, I am giving them a reason to keep me.”
Holland returned for the fourth inning and struck out the side. He got lefty Brett Gardner looking and right-handed hitters Luke Voit and Aaron Hicks swinging, both on knuckle curveballs.
“He came in hot,” Hinch said. “We needed strikeouts, soft contact or no contact, and he got us both. Been really impressed by him.”
Holland, who is battling with lefties Ian Krol (non-roster invitee) and Tyler Alexander for one of the final bullpen spots, hasn’t allowed a run in six innings with 11 strikeouts.
“I still have to earn it,” he said. “I don’t care what my numbers are. Every day I have to go out and earn it…I always tell people, you don’t get crowned a champion in spring training. You don’t get a Cy Young in spring training. I just need to make sure I go do my job.
“Nothing is guaranteed.”
Catcher Grayson Greiner returned to the lineup after having his nose broken by a 94-mph fastball on March 7. His first at-bat, of course, was against hard-throwing Yankees starter Gerrit Cole.
“I joked with him when I gave him a target date to return to play,” Hinch said. “I said maybe you’ll draw Cole. I didn’t know he’d draw him but he did and he pulls off a great at-bat against him.”
Greiner drew a 10-pitch walk after falling into an 0-2 hole and fouling off four pitches.
Around the horn
The Tigers, as they did last spring, banged a couple of home runs off Cole. Renato Nunez, non-roster invitee trying to win the first base job, blasted a 98-mph fastball out onto the berm in left field. But JaCoby Jones did him one better. In the same inning, Cole knocked Jones down with a 98-mph fastball. Jones, who had his last two seasons ended early after being hit in the left hand and wrist, got up, dug in and hit the next pitch, an 88-mph slider, over the centerfield wall.
… Hinch challenged Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo by starting him and batting him leadoff against Cole. Cole got him twice, ground out and strike out. But Baddoo smashed his third home run off the spring off former Tiger Luis Cessa.
…Reliever Bryan Garcia returned after a week in quarantine. He gave up home runs to Clint Frazier and Tauchman in the fifth inning.