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Worth debuts knuckleball in rare mound appearance

Shortstop first Tigers position player to pitch full inning since 1931

DETROIT -- After Thursday's game, a 9-2 loss to the Rangers, Danny Worth had the look of disappointment on his face of a pitcher who just served up a walk-off homer.

"I shouldn't have thrown him that heater," said Worth, the Tigers' backup shortstop.

Worth, now the team's resident knuckleballer, wasn't lamenting a game that he gave away. No, the outcome Thursday had long since been decided. Rather, he was upset about giving up a ninth-inning base hit to Texas' Chris Gimenez, the lone demerit of Worth's otherwise perfect frame.

He got Michael Choice to go down swinging, then froze Leonys Martin to end the inning, which was the first full inning pitched by a Detroit position player since Mark Koenig in 1931.

With the bullpen already exhausted, starter Robbie Ray lasted 3 1/3 innings. That boded well for Worth's chances of getting into a game to pitch for the first time since summer league in high school.

"There had been some discussions about it," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said of the possibility of using Worth in relief. "In the fifth inning, I asked him if he had his pitching spikes with him today."

A crowd of teammates gathered around Worth in the Detroit bullpen as he began to warm up. Much to the crowd's delight, his catcher had trouble holding onto the ball -- so great was the movement on Worth's knuckleballs.

His aptitude for the pitch may have surprised some of the sellout crowd in attendance at Comerica Park on Thursday, but his skipper has come to expect it.

"I wasn't [surprised] only because I've seen him throw it before," Ausmus said. "It moves quite a bit. I imagine if he was a little more comfortable with pitching, he might even be more consistent."

Worth's fingers began cramping up as the inning wore on, which Ausmus said can happen when a knuckleballer goes too long without practicing his trade. As a result, teammates like Max Scherzer, who Worth said has been begging him to come to the bullpen and practice the pitch, may get their wish.

"Just throwing a 'pen every once in a while might alleviate that," Ausmus said, adding that having Worth throw every two weeks or so might be a good idea in case his services are again needed "on a very part-time basis."

Worth was asked whether he might one day consider trying to make it as a knuckleballer, and he didn't rule it out. For now, though, he's content to just play with the pitch that he's been working on since he was 10 while playing catch -- unless, of course, his team needs him.

"Hopefully not though," he said. "I wish I wasn't out there. I wish we were ahead. But it was a blast."

Added Ausmus: "I think a lot of the pitchers in the dugout were jealous. His strikeouts-to-innings ratio is pretty good."

Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for
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