Baseball / Sports

Tigers throttled again, but Kyle Lobstein shows promise

MINNEAPOLIS -- There's an expression for starting pitchers who look to exit the game as soon as they've gone the minimum five innings required for a victory: Five and fly.

The circumstances of Detroit Tigers left-hander Kyle Lobstein's big-league debut Saturday were the reverse: Fly and five.

Thanks to a flight that was delayed by about an hour, Lobstein and fellow pitching call-up Pat McCoy didn't arrive at Target Field until the second inning. One inning later, Lobstein was on the mound to pitch long relief.

He pitched the final 5 2/3 innings of the Tigers' 12-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.

Lobstein took over with the Tigers behind 8-1 in the third. He saved the bullpen for the nightcap, in which Justin Verlander will make his first start since shoulder soreness limited him to one inning in a start last week.

With his performance Saturday, Lobstein seemed to become a candidate to take Robbie Ray's spot in the starting rotation. Ray exited down 6-1 in the second inning Friday night, then was sent to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Lobstein, who flew in from Indianapolis, where Toledo played Friday night.

Buck Farmer left Saturday's opener under the exact same conditions as Ray the night before -- down 6-1 with one out in the second. Farmer was charged with a seventh run that scored after McCoy relieved him.

Lobstein was 9-11 with a 4.07 ERA at Triple-A Toledo. He'd been having an inconsistent season when the Tigers first promoted Farmer over him and everybody else at Toledo last week. Farmer justified the decision initially when he pitched credibly against Pittsburgh in his debut and the Tigers won the game. He couldn't repeat that today when he was the one-day call-up that teams are allowed for doubleheaders.

In his two starts since Farmer first got the nod, Lobstein has put together his best back-to-back outings in a while. Can he carry that to the majors, into a playoff race?

Perhaps it's best not to read too much into Saturday, when Lobstein pitched in relief with his team far behind. But perhaps Lobstein, who threw 100 pitches Saturday, is one of those performers from whom the souped-up majors inspire a level of performance that the minors cannot.

The 1 1/3-inning outings the past two days by Ray and Farmer show why the Tigers made the much-criticized Doug Fister trade. They lack starting-pitching depth in the minors. Ray was the prospect who was the centerpiece of the Fister trade. He is working on converting his breaking ball from a curve to a slider, and it's not fair to judge him as he does this in a playoff race in the big leagues.

The Tigers were fortunate not to have their shortage of starting-pitching depth exposed last season. Their season-opening five-man rotation had started 154 of the 159 games when they clinched the division. The Tigers never had two rookies start consecutive games last year, as Ray and Farmer have the last two days.

Lobstein, 25, gave up all three of his runs in the seventh inning today. Asked for a word to sum up his debut, he said, "Exciting." His next outing might be more exciting, because for him it might be his real start in the majors.

The Twins have now scored 32 runs in the past two games of this 4-game series with Detroit.

The Tigers' offense this afternoon consisted of a Nick Castellanos RBI double, an Ian Kinsler RBI single, an Ezequiel Carrera RBI single and a Miguel Cabrera RBI single. The latter three came in the fifth inning after the Twins had already built a 9-1 lead.

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