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Reininger rides fast track to Detroit

Promotion to bigs a testament to righty's hard work after Tommy John surgery
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Zac Reininger began this season pitching in Class A Advanced ball in Lakeland, hoping to get a full season in for the first time since Tommy John surgery halted his career in 2015. He did not imagine getting to the big leagues by the end of August.

"Obviously, you hope for the best and pray it happens," Reininger said Thursday as he settled into the clubhouse at Comerica Park. "I didn't see myself really jumping three levels. It just happened to work out in my favor. I guess the right place, right time."

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DETROIT -- Zac Reininger began this season pitching in Class A Advanced ball in Lakeland, hoping to get a full season in for the first time since Tommy John surgery halted his career in 2015. He did not imagine getting to the big leagues by the end of August.

"Obviously, you hope for the best and pray it happens," Reininger said Thursday as he settled into the clubhouse at Comerica Park. "I didn't see myself really jumping three levels. It just happened to work out in my favor. I guess the right place, right time."

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It's a testament to the hard work the lanky 24-year-old right-hander put in to get himself back. It's also a reflection of the opportunities available in a Tigers bullpen that has had plenty of changes since April.

Reininger's promotion for his first Major League stint Thursday was mainly out of situation, with the Tigers needing a fresh arm after back-to-back short starts taxed Detroit's bullpen. But Reininger, a 2013 Draft pick out of Hill College in Texas, was already on the fast track this year, his power fastball lifting him from unranked prospect to the Tigers' crop of future bullpen arms.

Reininger's promotion from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo after 16 appearances and 24 1/3 innings for the SeaWolves at the beginning of August caught many by surprise. After 11 1/3 innings of and two runs allowed over nine appearances for the Mud Hens, he was the recommendation of team officials when the Tigers asked for a relief candidate to promote Wednesday night.

"I've seen him go out there and shove," Mud Hens catcher Bryan Holaday said earlier this week. "He's thrown the ball great for us. His fastball is up to 98 [mph], and he locates really well. He's got three good offspeed pitches. He's got a slider, a good curveball and a good changeup.

"I think the sky's the limit for him. He's outstanding. He's a really good kid and a really good pitcher."

The fastball is actually thrown harder now than it was before his surgery. Reininger credits a 25-pound weight gain from rehab workouts for the bump.

"I was honestly not really a big worker when I was younger," Reininger said. "Once [the injury] happened, I learned from my brother that I've got to take care of it and get business done. It ended up helping in the long run."

Reininger's older brother, J.D., was a star at the University of Texas and a Cincinnati Reds Draft pick. He, too, had to overcome surgery on his rotator cuff, and he pushed his younger brother to work. Clearly, the labor paid off.

"He's got an electric arm," Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas said Monday. "He's got a good fastball. His breaking ball is good. He's got a good changeup. Coming a year off of Tommy John, I think it's tremendous. I've liked what he's done. I really have. He throws strikes, and he attacks hitters."

Reininger was one of two Tigers pitching prospects on the fast track this year, joining 2016 Draft pick and former University of Miami closer Bryan Garcia. Both were promoted from Erie to Toledo around the same time, and both were expected to compete for spots in Detroit's bullpen next year. With this opportunity, Reininger gets an early audition.

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

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