Tigers call on Fien in wake of Zumaya injury
Reliever has been with three teams, including Tigers, this year
MINNEAPOLIS -- Casey Fien bounced between the Tigers, Red Sox and Blue Jays this spring before landing back in the Tigers system. He's now back in the big leagues with the Tigers, who purchased his contract from Triple-A Toledo Tuesday morning to replace injured Joel Zumaya.
Zumaya went on the 15-day disabled list after he hurt his right elbow in a horrific scene on the mound Monday night at Target Field. How long Zumaya will be out should become a little clearer later today once the Tigers review results of an MRI exam taken this morning at a local hospital.
Fien is expected to arrive from Detroit Metro Airport in time for tonight's game, which could be critical. Not only are the Tigers without Zumaya, but also closer Jose Valverde for the upcoming game. Valverde came on for a five-out save once Zumaya left, and manager Jim Leyland said afterward that he won't use Valverde pm Tuesday under any circumstances.
Add it all up, and the Tigers badly need Fien. That's an ironic twist from Spring Training, when the Tigers felt they had enough of a bullpen surplus on their roster that they took him off the 40-man roster to make room for Johnny Damon.
That began Fien on an adventure up and down the Grapefruit League. Detroit designated Fien for assignment Feb. 23 in hopes of outrighting him to Toledo, but Boston claimed him March 1. No sooner had Fien arrived in Red Sox camp than the Red Sox tried to sneak him through waivers. Toronto claimed him on March 4.
Fien, who never took part in a workout with the Red Sox, packed up again and moved to Blue Jays camp. Two weeks later, however, Toronto released him.
The Tigers, who never really wanted to lose him in the first place, immediately had interest in bringing him back. A day later, they signed him to a Minor League deal.
Fien went to Toledo and became a valuable late-inning arm for the Mud Hens, posting a 2.29 ERA and three saves in 26 games while scattering 32 hits over 39 1/3 innings with six walks and 27 strikeouts. International League opponents were batting .222 against him, including a .207 average from right-handed hitters.
Meanwhile, the bullpen depth that the Tigers seemed to have when they took Fien off the 40-man roster in Spring Training has just about disappeared. Detroit lost Bobby Seay and Zach Miner to injuries in Spring Training. Miner underwent Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago, while Seay's career is in danger as he weighs surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.
Ryan Perry's shoulder tendinitis earlier this month landed him on the DL and moved Zumaya back into a major eighth-inning role. Perry would've been a option to replace Zumaya, but he's still on a Minor League rehab assignment with Toledo, where he's scheduled to pitch Tuesday night. Promising left-hander Daniel Schlereth, part of the return package in the Edwin Jackson trade last December, has battled command in Toledo, walking 26 batters over 34 innings despite 44 strikeouts.
Homegrown relief prospect Cody Satterwhite underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last month. Fellow prospect Robbie Weinhardt, who made a big impression on Tigers coaches in Spring Training, tore a shoulder muscle earlier this season and is currently on rehab assignment at short-season Class A Connecticut. Even former sidearming reliever Brett Jensen abruptly retired to pursue a career outside of baseball.
Thus, back comes Fien, who pitched in nine games over two different stints with Detroit last year. He gave up 10 earned runs on 13 hits over 11 1/3 innings with six walks and nine strikeouts. Five of those appearances came as a September call-up in Tigers losses, including a pair of three-inning outings to save the rest of the bullpen.
He isn't likely to be used like that now. With the state of the Tigers bullpen, every reliever is going to be valuable to protect leads behind Valverde. Left-hander Phil Coke is expected to take on an even bigger role in setup duty against left- and right-handed hitters alike. Knuckleballing right-hander Eddie Bonine has seen increased use in close games lately, well before Zumaya's injury.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.