Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Del Pozo shakes off scary play, has perspective on MLB opportunity

Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers reliever Miguel Del Pozo marched out of the dugout Tuesday for a bullpen session, roughly 24 hours after taking a line drive to his face. The second pitch he threw in the ninth inning of Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins was a curveball to Max Kepler.

With a 95.2 mph exit velocity, the ball came right back at Del Pozo, sending him to his hands and knees on the pitcher’s mound. The frightening play resulted in his removal from the game, a lot of blood, five stitches and jaw soreness.

But Del Pozo avoided a concussion and won’t need a stint on the injured list.

“We feel like we’ve escaped what could have been a really major injury,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Tuesday. “That’s a short distance when the ball is hit that hard.”

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The Tigers recalled Del Pozo from Triple-A Toledo on Monday morning, giving him an opportunity to finish the season in the big leagues. Hinch plans to shuffle the roster quite a bit with 30 games remaining, which means the extent of Del Pozo’s chance is unclear. To make room for him on the roster, right-handed reliever Jason Foley was optioned to Toledo.

“Maybe he’s here for a bit, maybe he’s not, depending on the pitch usage, what we need and how well he does,” Hinch said Monday. “When you get an opportunity and do well, it makes for tougher decisions. The churn of the roster for the next 30-plus days is going to look a little like this on probably both sides, position players and pitchers.”

Before taking a line drive to his face, Del Pozo shared his perspective on his latest call to the big leagues.

“Just have fun, because you never know when it’s going to be the last year,” he said. “If it’s going to be the last one, you want to have fun. Every time that I play, I just try to make it something I can remember.”

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For Triple-A Toledo, Del Pozo posted a 2.63 ERA, 15 walks and 52 strikeouts over 37⅔ innings in 33 appearances. Before Monday, the left-hander had been called up three times but only pitched once. His lone outing came June 28 at Cleveland, but he allowed two runs on three hits with one strikeout over ⅔ innings.

Each time the Tigers brought Del Pozo up, he was quickly sent back down.

“(He) has never gotten a clear look here,” Hinch said.

But Del Pozo didn’t know if he would ever get another chance, considering what happened during the shortened 2020 season. He competed in five games for the Pittsburgh Pirates, taking a 17.18 ERA, eight walks and two strikeouts into the offseason. The minor leagues were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He didn’t know if any team would want him for 2021.

“Last year was a pretty tough year for me,” Del Pozo said. “They changed some stuff with my delivery. I lost a little bit, and I couldn’t get it back for the rest of the year. I didn’t know what it was going to be like this year.

“I treat it like a blessing to be back up here, even if I go back down. I signed here to be a player, not to get mad because I went up and down. It’s a blessing just to be here, and if I got to go down and keep proving myself, I’ll do it.”

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The Tigers, though, signed Del Pozo to a minor-league deal in January.

He credits the contract to his performance for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League. The 6-foot-1 lefty pitched six scoreless innings — walking two and striking out eight — across six appearances in the regular season, helping his team to the championship series. (He was teammates with fellow Tigers reliever Jose Cisnero.)

“I took advantage of that,” Del Pozo said. “I went there and made adjustments. I pitched pretty good and people saw that, teams saw that.”

Riding the shuttle between the big leagues and the minor leagues is nothing new for Del Pozo, now pitching for his fifth team — Miami Marlins, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Pirates and Tigers — over the past four years.

But his mindset has always stayed the same.

“I pitch to make people proud of me,” Del Pozo said. “If I can make my teammates, my coaches and my family proud, whatever I do on the field, I will feel blessed.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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