Long-relief role suiting Saupold just fine

Australian native thriving for Tigers in lengthy outings

July 7th, 2017

CLEVELAND -- made the long jog from the visitors' bullpen in right-center field to the mound at Fenway Park on June 10 and began warming when he heard a familiar sound. The Fenway sound system operator played Men at Work's "Land Down Under" to note Saupold's Australian heritage.

Saupold liked it so much that the Tigers took note and began playing it as his entrance music the next homestand. But that isn't why the rookie right-hander has felt so comfortable -- and pitched so effectively -- in long relief out of the Tigers' bullpen.

"He's been outstanding in his role," manager Brad Ausmus said after Saupold's three scoreless innings Wednesday against the Giants, "in that kind of long relief, to keep the game where it is, give us a chance to come back."

Saupold entered that game with a 5-0 deficit and left just before the Tigers rallied to make it a one-run game. That has been a common theme.

Saupold gave up three runs in that Boston outing, taking the loss after entering in a tie game. Since then, the Aussie has 15 innings of one-run ball on eight hits over nine appearances. Each time, he left with the same gap or smaller than when he entered.

It's not minor to him or his manager. The last game former closer pitched for the Tigers, he entered with a two-run deficit at Seattle and gave up a grand slam, runs that became the difference once the Tigers rallied late.

"I don't think it's easy," Saupold said. "I just think it's a role that someone's got to do, and I'm glad I'm doing it."

It's a role that requires a strike thrower, but one that avoids the middle of the plate for opposing lineups that have heated up against the starting pitcher.

"It's definitely not easy," Saupold said. "It's still the same guys getting in the box. They tend to get a little bit more aggressive on the relievers, too, in those situations. So you do really need to make pitches edgy almost, because they're trying to get you early [in counts]. …

"My fastball command is probably the best thing working right now. I'm going in, I'm going out to lefties and to righties, too."

Saupold handles it well. He also warms up quickly for someone who was a starter for most of his Minor League career, including seven starts at Triple-A Toledo this season.

"I'm always stretching and moving around because I know what my role is," Saupold said. "I'm always anticipating coming into the game if there's a little bit of trouble or the pitch count's getting up there. If I'm not in the game, then I sit back down. Anticipation's a big thing for me. If I anticipate getting in the game, it helps me be successful."

The more successful he is, the better his chances to stick around in Detroit. No matter what the role, that's the end goal.

"I just want to help the team win," he said. "I'll do that if it's the role I'm in or if it's starting or if it's later in the game. It doesn't bother me. I'm happy to be here and happy to help."