LAKELAND, Fla. -- Friday was the last day Major League teams could cut loose players with non-guaranteed contracts and only be responsible for one-sixth of their salary. Phil Coke wasn't headed in that direction, even after his early spring struggles.
That wasn't much of a curveball Friday. The sharper breaking ball Coke threw to the Washington Nationals was.
"It felt pretty good," Coke said. "As I get deeper into spring, the better it feels."
Technically, it's not a true curveball that Coke throws, it's closer to a slider. However, Coke spent a side session Thursday slowing down his delivery more and more until it looked like a curveball.
"It's more like a curveball because I'm getting my fingers in front of the ball," Coke said.
Coke entered Friday's 12-6 win over the Nationals in the middle of the fifth inning with a runner on third and nobody out, rather than starting an inning fresh, and the top of the Nationals' order due up. He seemingly responded to the atmosphere, retiring Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Nate McLouth in order.
The left-handed Span was a bit of an escape, popping out softly to third on a breaking ball Coke didn't throw as well as he wanted. Rendon's groundout was the type of swing Coke wanted, making weak contact off the end of the bat.
McLouth was the best display of a total at-bat. He fell into an 0-2 count before Coke's 1-2 pitch dropped to the dirt, sending McLouth swinging over it. It was his third strikeout of a left-handed hitter in his last two outings.
"The very last breaking ball on the strikeout was the sharpest breaking ball he's thrown yet," manager Brad Ausmus said. "So that was good to see. And he topped out at 91-92 [mph] today."
Fields, Travis, Lennerton head six roster cuts
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Daniel Fields, Devon Travis and Jordan Lennerton all made impressions on Tigers officials to help their case for eventually making it to the Major Leagues. None of them were going to make the Opening Day roster. Thus, they were among the second wave of roster cuts as the Tigers trimmed their ranks Friday.
Lennerton, Fields and Justin Miller were optioned to Triple-A Toledo, while third baseman Francisco Martinez was optioned to Double-A Erie. Travis, as a non-roster invitee, was assigned to Minor League camp; he's expected to join the Double-A club after hitting up a storm at both Class A levels last year.
The Tigers later optioned outfielder Steven Moya to Erie after Friday's 12-6 win over the Nationals.
Of the six cuts, Miller had the one real chance to make the Opening Day roster. The hard-throwing right-hander, signed last fall out of the Rangers' farm system, was a darkhorse candidate for a bullpen spot. He gave up runs in each of his first four outings this spring, which combined with strong performances from others in camp left Miller on the outside of the battle. He gave up five runs, three earned, on six hits in five innings, walking two and striking out six.
For Lennerton, a first baseman in the same organization as Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, an Opening Day spot would've been a long shot unless somebody was injured. The 28-year-old went 5-for-21 with two RBIs in his first big league camp. He'll return for a second season with the Mud Hens.
"I think I showed them that I am able to play at this level," Lennerton said. "Obviously things may not have gone exactly as I wanted, but I put together some good at-bats, I played some solid defense, and I think the staff knows I'm not afraid to work and I'm always putting in my time."
He'll be joined by Fields, who's headed to the same ballpark where his father, current Tigers hitting coordinator Bruce Fields, managed at Toledo in 2001 and '02 before joining then-manager Alan Trammell's staff in Detroit as hitting coach. Now, the younger Fields -- born and raised in Detroit -- will be one step away from making the big leagues himself.
With no time above Double-A, the 23-year-old Fields was never seen as a candidate to fill the left-handed-hitting platoon role that opened up in left field when Andy Dirks required back surgery earlier this month. He went 3-for-14 with no RBIs this spring, walking three times with seven strikeouts.
"I think when I got in there, I played as hard as I could and did everything I could to play well and show them what I had to do," said Fields, who will play center field in Toledo. "Hopefully I'll go to Minor League camp, play well, start the season off in Toledo and hopefully I get an opportunity up to Detroit soon."
Travis is an up-and-coming second-base prospect who made a fresh set of impressions with a new staff. He went 5-for-18 in scattering playing time this spring.
He'll be joined in Erie by Martinez, who returns to the same level where he earned an All-Star Futures Game selection in 2011. He spent last summer at Class A Advanced Lakeland after the Tigers reacquired him from Seattle.
Martinez went 5-for-17 in 12 games.
Moya was the furthest from the big leagues going into camp but made a big enough impression to change the perception on his development. The lanky left-handed hitter went 7-for-21 with two doubles, a triple and five RBIs, falling a home run shy of the cycle in a four-RBI performance against the Cardinals on Monday in Jupiter, Fla.
Moya's name came up when the Tigers were discussing their options in left field with Dirks out, manager Brad Ausmus said.
"You can make an argument that he was the MVP of the camp," Ausmus said. "The problem is he was in A-ball and he really just needs to play. He needs to get experience. We certainly think the ceiling is high for him, but asking him to go from 90 games in A-ball to the big leagues is an enormous jump."
Moya was neither stunned nor disappointed by the decision.
"That's OK, I'm not upset," Moya said. "I'm just going to keep doing my job, working hard, keep going forward, thinking positive. The only thing you have control of is what you do every day and how your work."
Asked whether he felt he proved what he can do, Moya said, "A lot. I know now they know that I can hit. They know I can run. Now they know I can play the outfield. I let them know what I want, and what I want is to be in the big leagues."
The moves reduce the Tigers' Spring Training roster to 40 players with two weeks to go before breaking camp.
Nathan keeping pace with velocity pattern
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joe Nathan trusts every spring that the numbers are going to be there at the end. This year is no different.
He's not talking about the stats; he could care less about those in Spring Training. He's talking about the velocity. He's no longer the overpowering fastballer he once was, but he has his range.
"The one thing I know in spring is I just can't get to that level of adrenaline," Nathan said, "and I found this out when I first got to Minnesota. My velocity's always very low in the spring."
He never knew that when he was a young prospect in the Giants' organization a decade ago. Spring Training parks didn't all have radar gun readings back then, and coaches didn't tell him. He realized it once he became a Twin.
"I got to camp for the first time with Minnesota, and everyone kept coming up and asking me if I was all right," he said. "I was like, 'I feel great,' and I was actually getting guys out. I'd feel good, but you're 88-90 [mph]. Well, maybe I don't feel that good."
By the end of camp, the velocity would kick in, likely out of adrenaline.
"I don't know what it is," Nathan shrugs. "I don't feel like I'm not getting out there and getting after it. Something clicks. Hopefully it does again this year. I'm always waiting for that one year when it doesn't."
Actually, it's pretty close now. Nathan hit 91 mph in his last outing Thursday, according to manager Brad Ausmus. His fastball averaged 92.2 mph last year in Texas, according to STATS.
V-Mart penciled in for catching duties
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The first warmup for Victor Martinez behind the plate will come Saturday. Manager Brad Ausmus has his regular designated hitter written into the starting lineup at catcher for the game against the Astros.
Martinez will catch American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. The two worked together last August in one of the two games Martinez caught against the Mets in Interleague Play. It's the anticipation of Interleague Play in a few weeks that has Ausmus getting Martinez ready now.
Martinez will bat leadoff Saturday so that he can get the number of at-bats he needs without having to catch longer than he or the Tigers want. Ian Kinsler, who has batted leadoff regularly this spring, will be fifth.
Ausmus indicated Martinez will probably catch a couple more games by the time camp breaks in two weeks. The Tigers have Interleague Play early, facing the Dodgers and Padres on the road in the second week of the season, so Martinez will have to play a position if he's going to start a game or two on that trip.