Tigers to place Fister on disabled list Sunday
Below may slide into Tigers' rotation; Villarreal joining bullpen
DETROIT -- Eight days ago, Duane Below thought he had pitched his way out of the Tigers' rotation and out of the big leagues, which was correct. Two injuries later, he might have to come in and help hold Detroit's rotation together now that Doug Fister is out.
When head athletic trainer Kevin Rand met Fister at the mound after he spiked a pitch in the dirt to Ryan Sweeney in the fourth inning of the Tigers' 10-0 win over the Red Sox on Saturday, the first thought in many minds was that Fister might be dealing with more soreness in the right middle finger that flared up in Spring Training.
Instead, Fister had suffered a rib injury, technically a left costochondral strain. After further evaluation, the Tigers announced they'll place him on the 15-day disabled list Sunday and recall right-handed reliever Brayan Villarreal from Triple-A Toledo.
Detroit didn't announce how much time Fister will miss, but the fact that it didn't wait to place him on the disabled list suggests it might not be a minimal stay.
Even if it's just 15 days, it'll force the Tigers to fill Fister's spot for at least two starts. Since Villarreal competed as a reliever in Spring Training, Below could be a strong candidate to start.
Fister had just struck out Boston's Kevin Youkilis looking at a fastball on the outside corner for the second out of the fourth inning before he fell behind on Sweeney. The first-pitch ball to Sweeney was when he suffered the injury, manager Jim Leyland said.
The next pitch bounced in the dirt before catcher Alex Avila came out from behind the plate. Leyland and Rand soon joined him from the dugout.
After a long talk on the mound, Leyland signaled to third-base coach Gene Lamont to call to the bullpen. Below, one of two long relievers, was already getting up.
"As soon as I saw Kevin start walking out to the mound, we all stopped, got up and tried to get as loose as we could," Below said. "We didn't know the extent of the injury or if he was going to stay in. We didn't know who was going in, so we waited until the phone rang. They said I was in the game. I grabbed my glove, walked up the stairs and then I took off jogging.
"Running to the mound, I was just going through my game plan to make sure I continue to attack the strike zone."
Prior to Saturday, Below's last appearance was his March 30 Grapefruit League start against the Orioles, when a four-walk inning hurt his case to crack the rotation. In the week since then, he had been optioned to Triple-A Toledo, recalled from the Mud Hens on his way to Toledo when reliever Luis Marte strained his left hamstring and watched his first Opening Day in the big leagues.
What Below did Saturday earned him his first Major League win, something that eluded him in two starts and a dozen relief appearances in Detroit last year.
Adrian Gonzalez's single off the right-field wall was the only baserunner off Below, who retired six straight batters before that and followed that with a David Ortiz flyout to end his outing. It brought back memories of last August, when Below tossed 7 1/3 perfect innings over three games with seven strikeouts to make an impression on Tigers officials.
"There's always the question when I didn't make the team, when I got sent down, when I didn't have a chance to pitch, you always run through your mind," Below said. "But I tried to keep telling myself that when I get out there, just continue to do what I've been doing the last couple years, and that's try to attack the strike zone.
"Today I was able to get outs. The defense was huge - [Miguel Cabrera] diving for that ball, and Brennan [Boesch] out in right on Gonzalez's single."