LAKELAND, Fla. -- Kyle Lobstein went into Spring Training last season worrying about where he was going to end up. As a Rule 5 Draft pick, the left-hander had to either make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to Tampa Bay, his former organization.
He didn't make the roster, but the Tigers saw enough to acquire his full rights from the Rays in a trade. It might have ended up being the best thing that could have happened to him. A year later, and a full Minor League season in the Tigers organization under his belt, he's showing the difference.
"It's such a funny situation being a Rule 5 pick," Lobstein said. "It's an exciting time for sure, but at the same time it's so uncertain. It's hard to try and settle down, so to say. But last year, the guys were very welcoming to me, so it helped a lot to try to make me more comfortable. With this year, definitely, I can tell a difference just in how comfortable [I feel]. It's a better feeling."
With Justin Verlander poised to rejoin the rotation next week, Lobstein stepped into the open rotation spot this first turn through Grapefruit League play on Saturday against the Astros. He not only shut down Houston, he became the first Tigers pitcher this spring to toss three innings, walking one and striking out four without allowing a hit in a 5-1 victory.
In so doing, he staked his claim to an insurance starter role he would have had no chance at without last spring's trade. Had he made the Tigers roster, he would've filled an extra bullpen role, his situations limited. Had he gone back to the Rays, he would've been stuck in the middle of their farm system again, behind their young core of talented starters.
The 24-year-old Lobstein went 13-7 with a 3.27 ERA in 28 starts, near-evenly split between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.
"I'm really trying to build off of last year," Lobstein said. "I went the whole regular season as a starter, and I know that's what they want me working on right now. I just really have to take that mindset."
Lobstein doesn't overpower hitters, but his pitches have movement that will keep them off-balance, resulting in a strikeout rate that belies his style. He hit 88-90 mph Saturday, according to a scout in attendance, but his pitches had life. Three of his four strikeouts were called, at least two of them on offspeed pitches.
"He threw well. He looked good," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He threw everything for strikes, clean innings. His command looked really good."
Crosby sidelined because of elbow soreness
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The list of Tigers pitchers reveals one reliever on the 40-man roster who has not yet pitched in a game. Casey Crosby's conversion from starting prospect to lefty reliever is behind schedule while he works his way back from elbow discomfort.
Crosby said he felt the issue after his second bullpen session, then noticed it flare up while throwing to hitters last week. He was shut down while they underwent tests and put him on a medication program. An MRI exam revealed inflammation in his triceps, Crosby said, but no structural damage.
Crosby is throwing long toss from 120 feet at this point. He's scheduled to get back on the mound for a bullpen session on Sunday and then face hitters again before he can begin game action.
It's the latest setback for a hard-throwing lefty who was among their top prospects not too long ago. Crosby has dealt with several health issues over the years, including a procedure last season to remove bone chips from his elbow.
To him, though, the latest medical matter is too minor for him to get worked up.
"It's way too early to get frustrated," Crosby said.
Tigers emphasize tags in new replay era
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers don't begin experimenting with replay technology until later this month, but the impact of the new system has crept into their instruction.
With tag plays reviewable, manager Brad Ausmus has had his coaches telling players to make the extra effort to apply the tag, even if it costs them a split second trying to throw somewhere else.
The reason is simple: The eyes are watching all over.
"With the replay, now you really actually have to tag the guy. There's no more phantom tags," Ausmus said. "Omar [Vizquel] the other day was talking about putting on tags covering a base, putting tags on steals and throws. And he said, 'Listen, with this replay, we have to touch the guy. If we don't touch the guy and they review it, he's going to be called safe.'"
That potential crossed Ausmus' mind on close plays Friday against the Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium. Both Torii Hunter and Eugenio Suarez were thrown out at the plate, and both plays were arguably close and potentially reviewable.
Ausmus was told by Major League Baseball officials at their meeting last week that 40-45 percent of would-be reviewable plays last season were tag plays.
Replay does not factor into force plays at second base on potential double plays, Ausmus said, because the "neighborhood rule" that involves how close the infielder must be to second base to get the force is not reviewable. However, force plays at other bases are reviewable, as are force plays at second that do not involve a double play turn.
Ausmus encouraging aggressive baserunning
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers stole four bases and manufactured half of their offense in their Grapefruit League opener on Wednesday against the Braves. Two days later, they made five outs on the basepaths in their loss to the Yankees.
They've already seen both extremes of their aggressiveness on the basepaths, and they still have four weeks to go in Spring Training. For the manager behind the emphasis, however, it's more about the mindset than the result.
"I've been very happy with how the baserunning has gone, despite the fact that there were outs on the bases," Ausmus said. "That doesn't bother me, because we're trying to change the frame of mind."
The more chances they take, the more they learn their capabilities when they press the issue. That's part of Ausmus' goal.
"We want them to take chances now," Ausmus said. "You hope that creates kind of an overall mentality for baserunning as a team that we're always trying to go the extra 90 or 180 feet. But it gets refined. As players realize what they can and can't do, they start to understand, 'Well, we can't run hog wild.' But the third day of Spring Training games, let's go after it. Let's force them to make the play."
Tigers sign Lombardozzi, seven others to deals
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers now have their entire 40-man roster under contract, having reached agreement with their final eight unsigned players this week.
The team reached one-year deals with Jose Alvarez, Bryan Holaday, Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi, Francisco Martinez, Melvin Mercedes, Hernan Perez and Bruce Rondon. All were pre-arbitration eligible, meaning the Tigers could either reach an agreement on a contract or unilaterally renew their contracts after a deadline. Moreover, only Lombardozzi has more than a year of Major League service time.
Lombardozzi will be arbitration eligible next winter if he spends the full season in the big leagues.
Though the Tigers haven't had to go to arbitration with a player since Dave Dombrowski took over general manager duties in 2002, they've ended up renewing a contract or two in most years.
• The Tigers announced they sold out available single-game tickets for Opening Day within 25 minutes after they went on sale Saturday morning. Tickets for the March 31 opener against the Royals are still available to fans who purchase a season-ticket package of 20 games or more.
• Verlander will throw a bullpen session on Sunday morning in Lakeland, after which Ausmus hopes to determine whether and when he'll pitch in a game this coming week.
• Don't read into Rondon pitching in the ninth inning, Ausmus said, even though he has done so twice so far. Rondon hit 95-96 on one scout's radar gun on his way to finishing out Saturday's 5-1 win over the Astros.