'Adrenaline rush' for Stewart in 1st MLB at-bat
Tigers prospect pinch-hits after callup, could start vs. Verlander; Salty, Reininger added to roster
DETROIT -- Christin Stewart was feeling the double effects of 2 1/2 hours sleep and an early-morning regional jet from Durham, N.C., as he rolled up to Comerica Park on Sunday morning. As he saw the Tigers facade and walked into the home clubhouse, he could be excused if he had to pinch himself in case he was dreaming.
"When you've worked your whole life to get to this point and then you finally get here, it's kind of hard to put into words," Stewart said. "I mean, I always dreamed as a little kid to get here, to be a big league baseball player. It's a blessing."
The feeling was nothing compared to when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning for his first Major League at-bat, pinch-hitting against new Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez with his parents in attendance. Stewart worked a full count before popping out to third to end the game, a 5-2 Tigers loss, but he was still feeling the adrenaline afterward.
"Oh, man, just a huge adrenaline rush," Stewart said. "When they told me, 'You might be going in to pinch-hit,' just a lot of emotions. It was a blast. I just loved it."
After two standout seasons at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, Stewart's time finally arrived. Once the Mud Hens were eliminated from the International League postseason Saturday night, the Tigers made the call to bring up the power-hitting outfielder, their top position-player prospect and No. 6 prospect overall, according to MLB Pipeline.
After a year of practicing patience through questions about his status, from being left out of big league camp in Spring Training to sticking in Toledo while chewing up Triple-A pitching early in the season, Stewart's time has arrived.
"It's all in my best interest," Stewart said. "I had a good couple years, put up some good numbers, but they know what they're doing. It just wasn't my time. Now it is."
Now that it is, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire plans on getting a good, long look at him in left field. After getting his first at-bat Sunday, Gardenhire said he wouldn't hesitate to start him Monday against the Astros and former Tigers great Justin Verlander.
"He's the guy that we want to see out there playing, so he's going to play a lot this month and get a chance to take some swings," Gardenhire said. "He's part of the future."
Stewart batted .264 (117-for-444) with an .844 OPS at Toledo, tying for the International League lead with 23 home runs while finishing third with 77 RBIs. His 67 walks finished third in the league, resulting in a .364 on-base percentage. While the power was a continuation of his work all the way up the organizational ladder, his plate discipline was an improvement as he learned to think along with pitchers on how to attack him.
The bigger reason for the Tigers' patience, however, was Stewart's defense, allowing him to work with outfield instructor Gene Roof and get repetitions in left field. That comfort level will be tested in the spacious gaps of his new home park.
"He's made a lot of improvement in the outfield," Gardenhire said. "That will be interesting here in this big outfield, a little bit different probably than what he's been playing in. We'll see how much improvement he's made. I haven't really seen him much at all, didn't get a chance to see him much in Spring Training. It'll be interesting to get a chance to watch him play."
The Tigers' outfield will be shuffled to make room. Michael Mahtook has been taking fly balls again in center field, where he played for stretches last season while Justin Upton was still around. But while Stewart expects to have a lot of eyes on him, the former first-round Draft pick doesn't want to let it change his game.
"I always try to be myself," Stewart said. "I have an approach that I go about every day. I never let my highs get too high or my lows get too low. Every day's a new day; that's the beautiful thing about baseball. There's always tomorrow. There's always another game. There's always a day to get better. As long as I stick to my approach and do what I do, everything will take care of itself."
More roster moves
On the other end of Sunday's roster additions was veteran catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, added to the roster to give the Tigers extra depth behind the plate. The 33-year-old, a backup catcher with the Tigers two years ago, spent this entire season in Toledo after signing a Minor League contract late in Spring Training.
Right-hander Zac Reininger was also called up, giving the Tigers some relief depth while giving Reininger his fourth stint in Detroit this season. He has given up 10 runs on 15 hits over 12 innings in 11 appearances this year, walking six and striking out nine.
The Tigers already had a 40-man roster spot open for Stewart after releasing Josh Smoker a few days ago. They opened up another for Saltalamacchia by transferring right-hander Artie Lewicki to the 60-day disabled list. He's set to undergo Tommy John surgery later this month.
More September callups are coming once pitchers get a couple days off from the Mud Hens' postseason run. Gardenhire said they'll likely add another starter and go to a six-man rotation next week. Others will fill bullpen roles.