Sidearming Rise

Tigers' Darrow has an outside chance at bullpen job




DETROIT—At this time last year, Rudy Darrow wanted to make a team.

This spring, he has a chance to make the team.

"It's crazy, man," Darrow said in a telephone interview before spring training began. "I was in extended spring training two years ago."

Darrow, a 25-year-old righthander selected in the 32nd round of the 2006 draft, achieved his goal last spring by making the Opening Day roster at low Class A West Michigan. From there, the 5-foot-10 sidearmer began a rapid climb through the Tigers farm system.

Darrow held Midwest League hitters to a .213 average and earned a late-July promotion to Double-A Erie, where he compiled a 2.63 ERA and six saves.
Sent to the Arizona Fall League after the season, Darrow maintained a 2.92 ERA before taking the loss in the championship game.

"I thought I did really well," Darrow said when asked about his showing in Arizona. "I thought I proved a lot to myself. I remember telling my dad before I left, 'Well, I'm going to see how good I am.' And I proved to myself that I can pitch at any level."

He also impressed the right people. Darrow received an invite to the team's big league camp with an outside chance to win an available bullpen job.

When asked what was behind his breakthrough season, Darrow pointed to a simple change he made.

"One thing that helped me was just relaxing and focusing on breathing while I was on the mound," he said. "That's one thing (West Michigan pitching coach) Mark Johnson helped me with. Just worry about breathing and nothing else. Once I did that, I was able to stay calm. I went out there like it was no big deal."

Darrow, who began his college athletic career as a wrestler, adopted the sidearm style after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2004. The unique delivery has enabled him to get incredible sink on his fastball, which has reached 94 mph.

The Tigers love his enthusiastic makeup, but minor league pitching coordinator Jon Matlack acknowledged that "there are still a few pieces of coal we have to polish" in Darrow's repertoire.

Darrow's next test—the one that will determine whether he debuts in Detroit this year—will be developing his secondary pitches. His slider could be a big league out pitch, but he struggled to command it at times last year. Darrow is also working on a changeup to use against lefthanded hitters.

The Tigers should get a good gauge of Darrow's ability when he faces big league competition this spring. And he plans to soak up the experience, as long as it's available to him.

"I want to enjoy it, take it all in and learn from (the big leaguers), since they've been there before," Darrow said. "It's going to be exciting to be in the clubhouse with each and every one of them."

TIGER TALES

• Tigers manager Jim Leyland could stretch out as many as 10 starting pitchers this spring, and top prospect Rick Porcello is likely to be one of them. "Jim plans on giving him the ball a lot early in the spring," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "But it's not like we're counting on him to be in our rotation."

• Lefthander Jonathan Kibler, a standout at West Michigan last year, also should throw plenty of innings this spring. Kibler, 22, appears to have recovered from shoulder trouble that affected him at the end of 2008. He's a strong candidate to begin this season at Double-A.