LAKELAND, Fla. — Jacob Barnes had gear packed to drive to Toledo, Ohio, on Friday ahead of the Mud Hens’ Opening Day next Tuesday. He had explained to his wife how he had to be out of town for the baby shower for their second child this weekend down the road in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Then came the message from the Tigers.
“I was going to throw an inning [Thursday] on the Minor League side, and they were just like, ‘Hey, you’re not throwing today,’” Barnes said Friday morning. “I’m like, ‘OK, well, when am I throwing, then?’”
Turns out, he was throwing Friday — for the Major League team that had just demoted him earlier in the week. Four days after being reassigned to Minor League camp for a Triple-A role, he headed back down the street to Major League camp. He faced the top half of the Yankees’ Major League lineup Friday afternoon and recorded a scoreless inning of relief, allowing a single to Anthony Rizzo but recording three fly-ball outs in the Tigers’ 6-2 loss.
“That’s a little unfair for us to ask that out of him,” manager A.J. Hinch said of the outing, “but he’s a pro. He’s been in the big leagues before. We obviously wanted to get him right back into the game. And he’s very much in the mix. Obviously you can change decisions whenever you want to when you have your players in camp. He bounced back nicely”
Barnes’ competition for a spot in Detroit’s bullpen is back on.
“Obviously things happen in this game and you just kind of roll with it,” Barnes said. “It’s a positive thing, and you can adjust everything else. So, yeah, that’s kind of what happened, and it was unique for sure.”
Barnes had been in Tigers camp as a non-roster invite after signing a Minor League contract on March 13. The 31-year-old has allowed seven runs on seven hits over five innings for the spring, walking four and striking out six. His relative success against left-handed hitters in his various big league stints was an appeal for Detroit to bring him in. Now, with Andrew Chafin’s status for Opening Day in question due to groin tightness, the Tigers have six pitchers — Jason Foley, Rony García and non-roster invites Barnes, Will Vest, Drew Hutchison and Chase Anderson — competing for potentially five spots if Chafin isn’t ready for Opening Day.
Hutchison gave up a solo homer to Kyle Higashioka in his inning on Friday. Foley gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits and a walk while striking out one. Anderson hasn’t pitched in a Major League game since March 25, but he pitched in a Minor League game on Tuesday. He has an opt-out if he isn’t added to the Opening Day roster, but he remains in competition for a spot.
“We wouldn’t bring [Barnes] back unless there was an opportunity for him to make our team,” Hinch said earlier Friday. “Some of it is just where our bullpen structure is, and some of it is the timing was really messy. With Triple-A breaking [camp] early, we wanted to be fair to him to get his season started on time. And now that’s a little more up in the air. …
“He’s got a lot of good stuff. He’s got some experience, four-plus years in the big leagues, and he’s pitched well in the big leagues at times. He can handle left-handed hitters, which is key, with his cutter. He also has a Major League look to him when it comes to how he conducts himself, how he handles himself, the pressure he’s been under over those years, which is why we signed him. We think he’s certainly great insurance for us, but also to compete.”
One year to the day after Miguel Cabrera homered through the snow on Opening Day to right field at Comerica Park, he went deep through the humid Florida air at Joker Marchant Stadium in Spring Training. His sixth-inning oppo drive off former Tigers prospect Chad Green went out to right for his first homer of the spring and Detroit’s final run of the afternoon.
“He’s peaking at the right time,” Hinch said.
Cabrera also drew a rare pickoff throw earlier when Yankees starter Gerrit Cole nearly caught him too far off first base.
“Not necessarily peaking at the right time [on the bases],” Hinch said. “That was only entertaining because he was safe.”
Since he did beat the throw back, Cabrera was still able to laugh about it.
“I want to steal,” he said jokingly.