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Ex-Rule 5 pick Stumpf holds critical 'pen role

MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers signed Francisco Liriano to compete for a rotation spot, but with the understanding he's willing to slot into the bullpen if that doesn't work out. Even so, he might not be the reigning left-hander in the club's relief corps, thanks to a young southpaw who qualifies as a veteran in this rebuilt bullpen.

A year ago, Daniel Stumpf was in Tigers camp as a Rule 5 Draft pick trying to prove he warranted a shot in the big leagues. As he begins his second spring in Lakeland, he's potentially one of the core members of Detroit's relief corps. He's also one of its few members with a year of Major League time.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers signed Francisco Liriano to compete for a rotation spot, but with the understanding he's willing to slot into the bullpen if that doesn't work out. Even so, he might not be the reigning left-hander in the club's relief corps, thanks to a young southpaw who qualifies as a veteran in this rebuilt bullpen.

A year ago, Daniel Stumpf was in Tigers camp as a Rule 5 Draft pick trying to prove he warranted a shot in the big leagues. As he begins his second spring in Lakeland, he's potentially one of the core members of Detroit's relief corps. He's also one of its few members with a year of Major League time.

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If the 34-year-old Liriano ends up a reliever, it could put two lefties at different ends of their career competing for opportunities. From the Tigers' standpoint, the continued development of Stumpf would give them their first promising young lefty reliever in several years. But the emergence of Liriano could add experience and enhance his potential trade value in the summer.

They could also complement each other to give the Tigers an effective lefty tandem -- or even trio, if Blaine Hardy sticks in Detroit. Part of that depends on how manager Ron Gardenhire works his relievers.

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Stumpf didn't make the club out of Spring Training last year, but Detroit was able to keep him in its system. Despite spending the first two months of the season at Triple-A Toledo, he finished third on the Tigers in games pitched with 55, trailing only closer Shane Greene and setup man Alex Wilson. His 0.8 bWAR trailed only Greene and Justin Wilson among Tigers relievers.

That was enough time for Stumpf to establish himself as the kind of lefty-lefty matchup the Tigers struggled to find during their contending years. Left-handed hitters batted .220 (13-for-59) with 13 strikeouts against him last year, compared with a .300 average (24-for-80) and .873 OPS from right-handed hitters.

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Kansas City's two prominent left-handed hitters last year, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, went 2-for-10 combined against Stumpf. Hosmer is now in San Diego, while Moustakas remains a free agent.

"Your target definitely gets smaller, especially when you're facing the same guys all the time," Stumpf said. "They know what you're coming in there with. Your mistakes can't be as drastic as before, when they don't know who you are. That's the main thing. That's what I learned, just stay composed and limit your mistakes."

Now 27, Stumpf wants to take the next step, while giving a different look to division foes who learned his game as the season went on. He spent the offseason working with former Major League pitcher and current junior college coach Woody Williams on a new changeup as a third pitch to complement his 93-94 mph fastball and slider.

He threw a changeup before last year, but scrapped it out of ineffectiveness. This one is slower and more deceptive.

"To throw a lefty-lefty changeup would be awesome," Stumpf said. "On top of that, to even have a changeup to throw to righties as well, where they're not just looking for two pitches, I think is going to be key also."

The more Stumpf has to offer, the more versatile he becomes, and the more value he gains in the bullpen. The more Liriano pitches, the more value he gains, both in the 'pen and potentially on the market. Depending on where Liriano ends up on the staff, the Tigers might have to balance the two.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Francisco Liriano, Daniel Stumpf