Just because the Mud Hens don't have a game today -- it's their first "off" day since the season began on April 4 -- doesn't mean things aren't happening around the team.
In fact, this morning the Hens saw one player called up to Detroit and another added to the roster.
The Tigers called up RHP Jose Ortega from Toledo to replace LHP Phil Coke, who went on the disabled list Wednesday with a left groin strain. Coke's placement on the disabled list is retroactive to April 26.
Also, Detroit ended the rehab assignment of OF Avisail Garcia, took him off the disabled list, and optioned him to the Mud Hens.
First, a few words about Garcia ...
Garcia, one of the top prospects in Detroit's organization, bruised his left heel during spring training and was placed on the disabled list in mid-March. In mid-April he was cleared to resume baseball activities, and on April 25 he began a rehab assignment with Hi-A Lakeland in the Florida State League.
In six games with the Flying Tigers, Garcia hit .417 with a home run, four RBIs and a pair of stolen bases. He really got rolling in his last two games, going 7-for-9 (.778) with a home run and three RBIs.
Garcia began this season as the second-best prospect in the Tigers organization, according to Baseball America, trailing only new teammate Nick Castellanos. Last season the 21-year-old Garcia began the year with Lakeland and hit .289 with eight homers, 36 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 67 games to earn a promotion to Double-A Erie, where he batted .312 with six homers, 22 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 55 games.
Late last season he was called up to Detroit and played in 23 regular-season games with the Tigers, hitting .319 with no homers, three RBIs and no stolen bases in 23 games.
Garcia stands 6-4 and weighs 240 points, and Baseball America likes his tools, including plus-power, a strong throwing arm, and good instincts running the bases.
One thing I think bears watching: Garcia has been primarily a rightfielder during his early career, but last season he played centerfield in 44 games for Erie and played all three outfield positions in Detroit. It's important that he continues his development, of course, but for this season it wouldn't surprise me if he played center in some Mud Hens games in case there is a need in Detroit.
Next, a few words about Ortega ...
In short, Ortega has been extremely impressive for the Mud Hens this season. In 10 appearances he has allowed just five hits and seven walks in 14 innings, giving up just one unearned run while striking out 19. He is 1-0 with one save and a 0.00 ERA.
Ortega has a .109 opponents' batting average, the fourth-best mark among relievers in the International League this season. His 7.71 baserunners allowed per nine innings ranks fifth in the IL.
One of the few concerns with Ortega has been a bit of wildness creeping into his numbers. In his first five appearances, Ortega allowed just two walks in 6.2 innings; in his last five games, the right-hander has issued five walks in 7.1 innings.
For the season Ortega has thrown 201 pitches, 125 of which were strikes (62.2 percent).
A quick bit of history on the 24-year-old Ortega: He pitched exclusively for the Mud Hens in 2011, posting a 1-3 record and 6.30 ERA primarily because he gave up 61 hits and 27 walks in 50 innings. He was better, but not great, with the Hens last year, going 5-8 with a save and a 5.74 ERA in 45 appearances. Ortega allowed 76 hits and 51 walks in 63 innings a year ago but did strike out 68.
Here is a look at two of Ortega's appearances with the Mud Hens this season ...
First, a reminder that I have not seen the Mud Hens since Friday, April 19, as they have been on the road for the past 11 days. They return home Thursday, for those of you who are interested.
Here's a quick analysis of two Ortega appearances: His inning of work on April 14 against Louisville, and one inning against Indianapolis on April 17.
First, it's worth noting that the first appearance was the last of his five strong, "in command" appearances, and the second was the first in that string of five where he started to struggle with throwing strikes. You will see the difference easily.
On April 14 Ortega needed just seven pitches to get three outs against Louisville, including one strikeout and two weak ground balls. Of his seven pitches, six were strikes. His fastball sat at 95-97 mph, although he threw one pitch at 92. He only threw one slider, at 85 mph, and got his strikeout with it.
It's worth noting that, even when Ortega is going well, his fastball isn't a "swing-and-miss" pitch. Of the five strikes he threw with the fastball, three were fouled off and two were put in play.
On April 17 Ortega pitched another scoreless inning, but this one took a little work. He needed 20 pitches to get three outs, giving up and a walk and a single. Of his 20 pitches, 10 were strikes.
I charted 18 of the 20 pitches Ortega that inning and recorded 11 fastballs (five for strikes) and seven sliders (three for strikes). The fastball again sat at 96-97 mph (three at 97, four at 96, one at 95, one at 94, two at 93), and again the fastball was not a swing-and-miss pitch (two fouled off, one taken, one put in play, one swung at and missed).
Ortega's slider sat at 83-85 mph (one at 82, three at 83, one at 84, two at 85), and three of the seven I recorded were strikes (one taken, one swung at and missed, one put in play for a single).
Here are a few comments from Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin about Ortega ...
"When I point to the bullpen, the pitcher who has emerged as a bright spot for me is Ortega," Nevin said. "He understands ... the importance of strikes. He can dial it down a little bit, get strikes with more movement on his pitches. He's got a devastating slider that can get swings and misses, similar to Al Alburquerque.
"[Tigers manager Jim Leyland] said it to me: You look at [Ortega's] stuff, and you wonder why the numbers are [what they are]. The reason is, more often than not the count is 1-0, 2-0, 3-1. Now he understands the importance of that first-pitch strike. He has come in and thrown strikes. He understands now that [hitters] are going to put the ball in play once in a while, and he understands the guys behind him are pretty good.
"He's still going to get strikeouts because of his 'stuff,' but he understands what is behind him. He can slow his motor down and throw strikes, and he's still going to get outs. Hitters aren't getting many good swings off him. ... He's repeating his pitches, and understanding how good his stuff is when he's under control. He's maturing -- remember, the guy is pretty young. He's starting to understand the 'pitching' side of things."
Wait ... the Tigers aren't finished making moves today. After Wednesday's loss to the Twins, Detroit optioned pitcher Bruce Rondon back to the Mud Hens and promoted RHP Luke Putkonen.
Click here to read about that transaction.