Watch as the Detroit Tigers’ pitchers and catchers warm up with a game of catch on the first day of spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Lakeland, Fla. Video by Anthony Fenech/DFP
LAKELAND, Fla. — At this time last season, Daniel Stumpf was one of the other guys. He was a Rule 5 draft pick brought to Detroit Tigers camp with the hope he could turn into a contributor.
A year later, and Stumpf seems to hold one of the only few secured spots in the team’s bullpen.
“But from my perspective,” he said. “I’ve always been in a competition.”
For the first time in his short Major League career, Stumpf is looked upon as an important part of a roster. After a solid season in 2017, he is the favorite for the team’s top lefty spot.
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“I could’ve been better last year, especially with the way I finished the season,” he said. “But overall, I think I showed that I can be a lot more versatile than just serving a lefty relief role.”
Stumpf posted a 3.82 ERA in 55 appearances last season and proved to be reliable. He is working on improving his numbers against right-handers, who hit .300 against him last season.
He worked with former Major League pitcher Woody Williams in the offseason to tweak his changeup, slowing it down to offer more of a contrast with his fastball.
“I’ve been working on it a lot and the grip change has been more comfortable,” he said. “Even though I haven’t been clocked yet, I feel like it’s getting up there slower than normal.
There are a number of similar cases in camp to Stumpf’s last year, minor-league signings like Mark Montgomery and Kevin Comer, and lefty pitcher Travis Wood, who is dealing with an injury on his right hand. Maybe Montgomery or Comer could win a relief spot or provide a boost midseason. Maybe Wood, who has both experience in starting and relief, can fill multiple roles when injuries hit.
Still, Stumpf has experienced too much failure in baseball to take anything for granted at this time of the spring.
“I’ve never felt that,” he said. “I don’t even know what it feels like.”
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