How Detroit Tigers’ Jose Cisnero became ‘very reliable’ in a variety of roles

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Detroit Tigers reliever Jose Cisnero didn’t like what he heard from the trainers and medical staff. He had been placed on the injured list Sept. 14 with a right elbow laceration but was determined to return before the Oct. 3 season finale.

The message: You need to rest because you pitched a lot this year. 

“Yes, but I want to finish out the season good,” Cisnero recalls responding. “I don’t want to be hurt for the season. I don’t want to end the season like that.”

But the Tigers shut him down anyway. Manager AJ Hinch didn’t see a reason to bring the right-hander back for three games against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. An early exit — instead of ramping him back up — was the wise decision, considering Cisnero paced the bullpen with 67 appearances this season.

“I’ve used him all across the map,” Hinch said. “That’s a hat-tip moment for me because I’m telling him, ‘I want you in every situation imaginable,’ and not just the perfect situation in the seventh, eighth or ninth. He’s done it all for us this year. I’m bummed for him that he’s finishing the season on the injured list, but he’s established himself as a very reliable guy in a variety of roles.”

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Cisnero, 32, leaves his third season with the Tigers as a key member of a promising bullpen under Hinch, pitching coach Chris Fetter and assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves. Before the Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract ahead of spring training in 2019, Cisnero hadn’t pitched in MLB since 2014 and hadn’t appeared in professional baseball since 2015.

He logged a 3.65 ERA with 31 walks and 62 strikeouts over 61⅔ innings in 2021.

“I feel fantastic,” Cisnero said. “I went five years not playing in the big leagues. I knew I could play there. When the Tigers gave me a chance, I said, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity I can’t miss,’ so I wanted to work hard. When they sent me to Triple-A (Toledo in 2019), I said, ‘OK, I’ll work hard. Thank you for the opportunity and see you soon.'”

Cisnero pitched in the fifth inning (one game), sixth inning (eight games), seventh inning (20 games), eighth inning (33 games), ninth inning (10 games) and extra innings (four games) this season. To understand why Hinch felt comfortable calling on Cisnero in various situations, evaluate his splits against righties and lefties. 

Right-handed hitters had a .208 batting average with 15 walks and 36 strikeouts over 169 plate appearances. Left-handers had a .260 batting average with 16 walks and 26 strikeouts across 96 plate appearances.

“This year was very good,” Cisnero said. “My arm felt good. When I got on the mound, my mentality was to go for kills and don’t give them a chance. I worked hard for that. Every day I would read the hitters (tendencies) and see how they hit pitches. I felt good. I feel so happy.”

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Cisnero and left-hander Gregory Soto — the team’s de facto closer  — have strengthened their relationship. For most of the season, Cisnero and Soto provided a one-two punch in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.

“He really developed into a very reliable reliever when the most stress or highest leverage can be,” Hinch said. “He and Soto became go-tos in any situation possible. … I think he knows himself as well as anybody. Another consistent personality. He brings the willingness to pitch in any role.”

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Soto is also out for the season because of a fractured finger on his left hand. The 26-year-old made the All-Star Game for the first time in his career and posted a 3.39 ERA with 40 walks and 76 strikeouts over 63⅔ innings (in 62 games).

“It was great for Soto,” Cisnero said. “He’s unbelievable. He’s got the fastest fastball on the team, and he pitches good. He’s young, but his mentality is good. He’s going to be in a couple more All-Star games. But if they call me, I’ll be ready for that.”

The offseason began Friday for Cisnero, who traveled home to Philadelphia to be with his children. After a short break, he will work out to prepare for a trip to the Dominican Republic. In late December, Cisnero ventures to his home country to compete for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League. He is expected to pitch just five innings in the postseason.

Then it’s time for spring training.

“In whatever position the manager puts me in, I’ll be here,” Cisnero said. “I’ll do the best I can do.”

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

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