5/24/2014 1:53 A.M. ET
Top 2013 pick Crawford enjoys best pro start
By Matt Slovin / MLB.com
Jonathon Crawford has been baffling hitters and keeping runners from crossing home plate since he began his Minor League career last year. But on Friday, he put it all together in the best start of his young professional career.
Crawford, the Tigers' No. 4 prospect, struck out a career-high nine batters over seven innings, his longest professional start, and allowed only three hits and a walk as Class A West Michigan beat Dayton, 1-0.
Crawford improved to 2-1 with a miniscule 2.16 ERA in eight starts to begin the season. Seven of the 10 earned runs he's allowed this year came in his season debut, an uncharacteristic outing against the same Dayton team he blanked on Friday.
Crawford has recorded 41 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings, walked only 12 batters and held opponents to a .212 batting average. In short, he's given the Tigers just about everything they wanted when they picked him 20th overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
The University of Florida product permitted only one Dragons baserunner through four innings and erased him with a double play. When Sebastian Elizalde dropped a bunt single to lead off the fifth, Crawford picked him off at first base. He faced 23 batters and recorded 21 outs.
Relievers Julio Felix and Joe Mantiply took over after Crawford, each throwing a scoreless inning to give Crawford his second win of the season.
- Adam Berry
Prospect Knebel at the ready in first Majors experience
DETROIT -- Skip Johnson, the pitching coach at the University of Texas, taught the newest member of the Tigers a lesson that dictates his approach on the mound.
"Fear no man. Fear no hitter," said Corey Knebel, Detroit's 39th overall selection in last year's First-Year Player Draft. "That's just what I kind of live by. I just go out there and think that I'm better."
Knebel's ability to abide by his old mentor's dictum will be put to the test as he prepares for his Major League debut. In fact, for whatever reason, the young southpaw was already sweating when setup man Joba Chamberlain came up to greet him upon his arrival in the clubhouse Friday.
"Why you sweating?" Chamberlain teased. "You already nervous?"
If Knebel is nervous, and he admits he will be when he takes the mound for the first time, it's tough to blame him, considering the lofty expectations placed upon the Tigers' No. 5 prospect. His Detroit welcome comes after a quick scurry up the ranks of the Tigers' Minor League system. The 22-year-old Texas native, who grew up a fan of the Astros while Tigers manager Brad Ausmus played in Houston, said he surprised even himself at how fast he climbed.
Ausmus plans to exercise caution, if possible, in using Knebel, but noted his experience pitching for a major college program should make him "a bit more stable."
"Obviously, you don't want to throw him into a burning, hot fire if you can avoid it," Ausmus said. "Sometimes you can't, if you go into extra innings and he's left in the bullpen and he comes into a tie game in the 12th. Can't control those situations, but ideally there's a little bit less pressure."
Knebel replaced another youngster, Robbie Ray, on the active roster. Ray was optioned to Triple-A Toledo after a rocky start Thursday, though Ausmus said the plan was to return him to Toledo regardless of how the outing went.
The hard-throwing Knebel brings a fastball and curveball that he "throws as hard as I can." He also has a changeup that he's been using sparingly.
His parents, Jeffrey and Melissa, were in attendance Friday night, as well as his fiancee, Danielle Matula.
Torii temporarily dropped to fifth in batting order
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus preferred Rajai Davis in the leadoff spot against Rangers right-hander Scott Baker on Friday, thus dropping Torii Hunter down to fifth in the order.
"As of right now, it's just for today," Ausmus said. "Torii's done very well in the two-hole, so I'm certainly not committing to moving him anywhere else."
Ausmus is reluctant to separate Davis from Ian Kinsler, who batted second Friday night.
"I like the idea of having two shots at getting a couple guys on with speed," he said.
Shortstop Worth a viable mop-up option
DETROIT -- A day after shortstop Danny Worth gave a sellout Comerica Park crowd something to cheer about in an otherwise disappointing 9-2 loss to the Rangers, manager Brad Ausmus told the knuckleballer it might not be an isolated relief appearance.
"We talked to him today about throwing a [bullpen session] every 10 to 14 days," Ausmus said. "Don't get me wrong, he's an infielder. But if he can save our bullpen in a game like that, then great."
With the rotation struggling over the current four-game losing streak, Ausmus saw the opportunity to give the bullpen a breather and Worth a chance to use the knuckleball that Max Scherzer always begs him to break out more often. Worth struck out two Rangers in a scoreless ninth inning.
"To come in and pitch as a position player is kind of like a fantasy for a lot of position players," Ausmus said. "But to come in and throw a knuckleball and strike out a couple guys, I'm sure he's been smiling for the last 24 hours."
Ausmus never batted against a position player at the big league level, and he's glad. The times he did so in the Minors produced considerable anxiety.
"It's terrible as a hitter because you're supposed to hit the guy," he said. "He's not even a pitcher. If he gets you out, you look like a fool. It's really a no-win situation for the hitter."
Ausmus thrilled to have 'Uncle Gene' in Detroit
DETROIT -- Gene Lamont has been everything a first-year manager could possibly hope for in a bench coach.
"He's got suggestions, he answers questions, he makes me aware of situations that I might not be aware of," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's like my uncle. If I need a little advice, I go to Uncle Gene."
And like a fun-loving uncle, Lamont is quick with a joke when it's appropriate. Ausmus said the quality he most appreciates in Lamont is "his levity and sense of humor."
Lamont and Ausmus have had a long-standing relationship ever since the former was a coach with the Astros during Ausmus' playing days.
When Lamont interviewed for the Red Sox managerial job at the end of 2011, he told Ausmus he'd like him to be his bench coach, if chosen. The next season, after Bobby Valentine was fired after a year at the helm in Boston, Ausmus interviewed for the job and told the front office that he'd like Lamont to be his bench coach, if selected.
A season later, they've finally met up in Detroit, where Lamont has been a coach since 2006 under Ausmus' predecessor, Jim Leyland.
"Geno's exactly what I was hoping he'd be," Ausmus said.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.