Go ahead. Dare the Tigers on draft day to pass on a starting pitcher who is 6-foot-6, throws a 95-mph fastball, and for added luster has been playing for North Carolina, which specializes in more than thoroughbred basketball players.

Little chance Luke Putkonen would get past the Tigers in June 2007, as that third round of the draft unfurled. Of course they were going to bite on one of those prototypically tall, 200-pound-plus right-handed power pitchers front-office chief Dave Dombrowski might as well adopt as his baseball coat of arms.

Tuesday at Osceola County Stadium, Putkonen continued his push to win a job in Detroit, where he had a 12-game initiation in 2012. Talk about nerve. Tigers manager Jim Leyland's team already has six starters scrapping for five spots.

But in fact there is a roster spot begging to be grabbed. It's the long-relief job. And everyone knows long relievers who can handle a bullpen's most thankless task are generally one disabled-list event, or a spot-start, from promotion.

It can happen all the more quickly when you own Putkonen's secret weapon: a split-finger fastball he has been crafting for two years.

"It's turned out to be a pretty nice other pitch for him," Leyland said Tuesday before Putkonen worked one inning against the Astros, striking out two in Houston's 9-4 victory. "And it's a pretty good one. When you've got 95 (fastball) nice and easy, and a curveball and a split to go with it, that's pretty good.

"He's certainly an interesting guy this spring."

Putkonen had been a mixed-bag prospect after the Tigers signed him in the summer of 2007. He had power but no command. And no third pitch. He and the change-up have been quarreling forever, a spat that ended when Joe Coleman, then the pitching coach at Single A Lakeland, persuaded Putkonen in 2011 to bag his change-up and consider throwing the nastiest pitch in baseball: the split-finger fastball,.

"It took me a while to get used to," Putkonen said. "But I've felt good with the splitter so far.



From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130227/SPORTS0104/302270328#ixzz2M79qrHRl