Kyle Funkhouser remembers exactly how he felt after learning he’d been optioned to Triple-A Toledo at the end of Spring Training.
Not happy. Sour. Like he’d been smacked in the mouth a little bit. But then came the fight response: The Tigers righty wasn’t going to spend a day longer in the Minors than he had to.
“I just really got to work, put my head down and grinded a little bit,” Funkhouser said Saturday. “I was just itching for an opportunity, and just trying to take advantage of [this] opportunity, just try to do my best. Definitely kind of leave it all out there: attack, attack, attack.”
As it turned out, Detroit had a need for Funkhouser before he even threw a pitch for the Mud Hens, recalling the reliever on May 6 as Derek Holland hit the injured list with a left shoulder strain. True to his word, Funkhouser has been on the attack ever since.
“If I’m going to get beat, or if I’m going to struggle or whatever, it’s going to be on attack mode at least, versus … being tentative and trying to pitch around the zone and stuff,” he said. “I kind of got my opportunity and ran with it.”
Through three outings and 4 1/3 innings so far, Funkhouser has yet to allow an earned run and has permitted just two hits. He worked the eighth and ninth against the Cubs in Friday’s 4-2 loss and allowed just one hit, a single to Joc Pederson, to keep the Tigers close.
Pitching with more conviction, manager A.J. Hinch said, has been a key.
“I do think he’s come up here and tried to re-establish himself as someone we can use,” Hinch said. “In the spring, he was a little tentative, he was avoiding the strike zone, and I see him much more in attack mode and throwing strikes from pitch 1 and being able to get in good counts.
“I don’t know what comes first, the conviction or the success, but he’s certainly putting himself in position to get more and more opportunities if he can throw the ball the way he has.”
In a bullpen situation with no roles set in stone, the late innings have held an interesting dynamic for the Tigers this season. Gregory Soto remains the most likely option to close, but his recent wildness means guys like Michael Fulmer -- and Funkhouser -- need to be ready to go every time the phone rings.
Funkhouser’s velocity -- which took a dip in Spring Training -- has crept back up to late-2020 form. The aggressive mentality is there. And now, with three solid outings under his belt, he has the confidence boost he’d been striving to earn since March 12.
“Opportunities come and go for everybody, and I just wanted to take advantage of mine as best I could,” Funkhouser said. “So far, it’s worked out for me.”
Ramos set to return
Veteran catcher Wilson Ramos (lumbar sprain) is eyeing a Monday return to action for Detroit, the first day he’s eligible to come off the injured list. Ramos was removed from the Tigers’ game against the Red Sox on May 6 with lower back tightness which landed him on the 10-day IL, a move Hinch said was largely because Ramos only plays catcher.
Though he’d struggled recently, Ramos was a catalyst for Detroit’s offense in the early going. Ramos collected 11 hits, six home runs, eight RBIs and a .932 OPS through his first 13 games of the season, and the Tigers will certainly welcome his power back to the lineup.
• Erasmo Ramirez (right pectoralis strain) is rehabbing at the club’s facilities in Lakeland, Fla., but has not yet begun a throwing program. Hinch said his reliever -- who hasn’t seen game action this season -- is “not close to returning.”
• Hinch celebrated his 47th birthday Saturday.