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Tigers thin pitching corps in first round of cuts

Wilson to pitch from bullpen for remainder of camp; Jones homers amid torrid spring
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers thinned out their crop of young pitchers in big league camp on Friday, while putting at least a couple of promising right-handers on the doorstep to Detroit.

Right-handers Zac Reininger and Artie Lewicki were optioned to Triple-A Toledo. Fellow righties Gerson Moreno and Spencer Turnbull were optioned to Double-A Erie, while left-hander Gregory Soto was optioned to Class A Advanced Lakeland.

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers thinned out their crop of young pitchers in big league camp on Friday, while putting at least a couple of promising right-handers on the doorstep to Detroit.

Right-handers Zac Reininger and Artie Lewicki were optioned to Triple-A Toledo. Fellow righties Gerson Moreno and Spencer Turnbull were optioned to Double-A Erie, while left-hander Gregory Soto was optioned to Class A Advanced Lakeland.

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Reininger and Lewicki were September callups for the Tigers last year after beginning the season at Lakeland and Erie, respectively. Reininger was in the mix for a bullpen spot this spring coming off a breakout 2017 season, but he faced an uphill climb to break camp with the big club. He gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits over three innings in three Grapefruit League appearances, walking a batter and striking out five.

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Lewicki, who made a start for the Tigers last September, did the same this spring for the first turn through the rotation before shifting to relief. All three runs he allowed were unearned on five hits over four innings, with two walks and two strikeouts. He'll likely end up as part of the Mud Hens' rotation, providing a spot-starting option for the Tigers in case of injury.

Video: KC@DET: Lewicki fans Gordon for first big league K

Moreno, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as Detroit's No. 28 prospect, pitched in five games for the big club this spring, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits over 4 2/3 innings. He struck out five but also walked five. While his mid-90s fastball was on display, his command was inconsistent.

"You have to be able to command the No. 1 [pitch] first," manager Ron Gardenhire said after Moreno's last appearance Thursday in a loss to the Pirates. "And then your secondary [pitches], you can use in different ways. But you have to command the strike zone first and work ahead in the count. It's about location with these young guys. That's part of the process."

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Turnbull made two appearances for the Tigers, striking out four batters over 3 1/3 innings while giving up five runs. The former second-round pick out of Alabama ended last season at Erie before pitching in the Arizona Fall League.

Soto, Detroit's No. 8 prospect, yielded three runs (two earned) on five hits over 1 1/3 innings in two appearances this spring, walking one and striking out one.

Wilson back in setup role
Alex Wilson's audition for a spot in the Tigers' rotation is over, despite stretching out his arm for three innings in Friday's 4-4 tie with the Mets. The veteran setup man, who convinced team officials to let him work as a starter for the early stages of Spring Training, has been told he'll be working out of the bullpen from here on out.

"We called him in and actually talked to him," Gardenhire said, "and told him [he's] going back to the bullpen in basically the role he was in last year. He's fine with that. He appreciated the fact that we gave him an opportunity to get some starts in there. But he gets it. He understands.

"He did a really nice job for this ballclub last year, and everybody's told me that. I think he'll be good in that role, just exactly where he was at last year."

Wilson's outing on Friday, ironically, was longer than his other three appearances so far this spring, though it was far from his longest outing in terms of pitches thrown. He was hoping to show he was capable of quick innings and efficient outings as a starter, but his history of Spring Training struggles hampered him.

Wilson was already facing long odds to beat out Daniel Norris or Matthew Boyd for a rotation spot. Once the Tigers signed Francisco Liriano to a Major League deal two weeks ago, Detroit had other options. Wilson anticipated that happening, but he hoped that the starting audition could benefit by forcing him to polish his changeup, the third pitch in his arsenal.

Injury update
Blaine Hardy is now scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday instead of next Tuesday as the lefty reliever tries to get back to game action and find enough innings to be ready for the season. Hardy has yet to pitch in a game this spring, and pitching coach Chris Bosio said Wednesday it could be tough to find the innings to get him ready in time.

Quick hits
• Don't expect No. 1 prospect Franklin Perez to get into a big league game this Spring Training. Gardenhire said the club wants the gifted young right-hander, the headline prospect from the Astros in the Justin Verlander trade last summer, to remain in Minor League camp this spring rather than make a Grapefruit League appearance as an extra pitcher.

Video: Top Prospects: Franklin Perez, RHP, Tigers

JaCoby Jones, now batting .412 this spring after slugging a three-run home run Friday, is getting looks beyond his normal position in center field. Jones started in left field Friday for the second time this spring as Gardenhire tries to sort out his outfield. Leonys Martin, who was 2-for-3 with a double Friday, is expected to open the season as the starting center fielder, leaving Jones fighting for a bench or platoon spot.

"I like him. He's an exciting player," Gardenhire said. "He can play all over out there, it looks like to me. Wherever I put him, it seems he has a great first step to the ball and covers a lot of ground and makes it look pretty easy."

Video: NYM@DET: Jones, Machado club back-to-back homers

• The Tigers are reportedly nearing a Minor League contract with former Reds and Brewers pitcher Donovan Hand, who took part in the team's open tryout camp Monday. The 31-year-old right-hander made 25 starts in the Mets' farm system last year. He hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2015.

Up next
Mike Fiers will make his third start of the spring Saturday when the Tigers visit the Blue Jays for a 1:07 p.m. ET game in Dunedin, Fla., live on MLB.TV. The veteran right-hander has allowed two runs on three hits over 4 1/3 innings with two walks and two strikeouts.

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

Detroit Tigers, Artie Lewicki, Gerson Moreno, Zac Reininger, Spencer Turnbull