DETROIT -- The Tigers announced Monday morning that they had given non-roster invite Zack Godley his unconditional release, perhaps a telling sign as they try to strike a balance between young arms and veteran relievers in what will be an expanded bullpen to open the season on July 24 in Cincinnati.
The Tigers signed Godley, 30, to a Minor League deal in December. Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire was the bench coach with the D-backs in 2017, when Godley first began to enjoy success as a starter with Arizona.
“Other teams would say when they faced Godley, they hated it,” Gardenhire said. “He’s just wild enough and misfires just enough that guys were afraid.”
Godley still has some of that nasty stuff, notably a cantankerous curveball, but his struggles to throw consistent strikes with his fastball were a concern in Spring Training. He spent baseball’s shutdown throwing to Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner at home in South Carolina, then returned with more refinement.
Godley threw two innings in Friday’s intrasquad game at Comerica Park, working to spot the fastball but getting hitters flailing at his breaking stuff.
Godley had an opt-out clause in his contract looming next week. The Tigers’ early decision allows him to attempt to sign with another club while Summer Camp is ongoing.
“I like the kid. I was with him out in Arizona,” Gardenhire said. “From what we saw, it’ll take a little time for him. But more than anything else, we just wanted to give him an opportunity to catch on with somebody else.”
The Tigers have a wide-open bullpen race after closer Joe Jiménez and setup man Buck Farmer. They'll also have a 30-man roster to open the season, and Gardenhire has indicated he’ll use extra spots for pitching depth. That should’ve been a good sign for Godley, but the impressive work of Rule 5 Draft pick Rony Garcia and non-roster invites Nick Ramirez, Dario Agrazal, Héctor Santiago, Nolan Blackwood and Shao-Ching Chiang worked against him.
“We’ve got young men lined up here. We’ve got lots of options here,” Gardenhire continued. “We’re trying to put together a 'pen, and we just wanted to make sure that he had an opportunity.”
Blackwood has been one of the more impressive relievers in Summer Camp, and Gardenhire has said he’s giving consideration to bringing the side-arming prospect onto the roster.
Godley would’ve had to be added to an already tight 40-man roster to make the club. The Tigers have little room to spare, having put several prospects on the roster last fall. Fellow relief candidates Tyler Alexander, Jose Cisnero and Bryan Garcia are already on the 40-man, and all have strong cases to make the club after impressing in camp.
Godley is the second veteran reliever the Tigers have released this summer. They did the same with Alex Wilson last month, ending his bid to rejoin his former club before camp restarted.
Fulmer recovers from rocky start
Michael Fulmer escaped his 25-pitch first inning Monday morning with one run allowed and one batter retired thanks to the setup of intrasquad games, where coaches can end innings when a pitcher reaches his pitch count.
By the time Fulmer completed his outing with a 10-pitch third inning, he may have had a case to face another batter.
“His last inning, he just finally relaxed,” Gardenhire said. “I told him, ‘What I saw is you just took a deep breath and you weren’t trying to throw it 95 miles an hour.’ He just made pitches. His slider was sharper, a really clean inning because of that.”
Fulmer gave up two singles in between two walks in his first inning before retiring Harold Castro. He gave up three more hits in the second inning, including a Willi Castro two-run single, but used his fastball to fan Dawel Lugo and garner a called third strike on JaCoby Jones.
By then, his slider was improving, and he was throwing his changeup as an effective third pitch. Cameron Maybin fanned on a nasty offspeed pitch to begin the third inning before Christin Stewart and Harold Castro grounded out.
“You have to understand it. This kid’s been out a long time,” Gardenhire said of Fulmer, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2019. “This kid wants to play and he wants to pitch. It’s going to take a little while before he can totally relax and do what he has done his whole life. And today, the third inning, I enjoyed that part of it.”
• Outfielder Travis Demeritte missed his fourth consecutive game with a groin injury.
“He’s on the road to recovery,” Gardenhire said. “He hit in the cage today. He’s swinging, and he wasn’t doing that a couple days ago. We’re moving forward.”
• The Tigers had umpires for their intrasquad game Monday for the first time this camp. Bill Welke, a native of Coldwater, Mich., called balls and strikes, with fellow Michigan native John Libka on the bases.
• While the Tigers took the field Monday morning, staffers were in the stands behind home plate, putting tape over the shiny seat number markers. With no fans in the seats for these games as well as the start of the regular season, fielders noted the glare off the markers was a distraction on line drives and fly balls in day games.