LAKELAND, Fla. - Mud Hens pitching coach A.J. Sager has a new nickname for right-hander Casey Fien.
"I call him Peter Gammons," Sager said, referring to the television baseball analyst.
"Yeah, it's the old 30-teams-in-30-days thing, like Gammons does," Fien said.
Not really. It only seemed that way.
Fien is with his third organization this spring, the fourth if you count Detroit twice.
The reliever knows now where he's headed - to Triple-A Toledo - but he's understandably confused about where he has been.
"It was a nightmare," he said yesterday at Tigertown, where heavy all-night and morning rains washed out a Hens' exhibition game against a Houston minor league affiliate. "I asked questions. Nobody told me anything. That was the hardest part, not being able to find anything out."
Fien came to spring training as part of the Tigers' 40-man roster, but was designated for assignment on Feb. 23 to make room for free agent signee Johnny Damon on Detroit's roster.
Boston claimed Fien on waivers, then turned around a few days later and waived him again, presumably in an attempt to sneak him through to its minor league system.
This time, Toronto claimed Fien and did manage to sneak him through a subsequent waiver offering to place him in the Jays' minor league camp. Four days later, he was outright released, giving the Tigers the opportunity to re-sign Fien, this time to a minor league contract, and do what they wanted to do in the first place - send him to Toledo.
In all that time, while putting on all the various uniforms, Fien never pitched to a hitter in a game.
That's why he was a bit startled when, upon being released by Toronto, he was told by the Jays that he was a, quote-unquote, liability. It's not exactly the word a pro athlete wants to hear from an employer.
Deep down inside, though, he knows why Toronto felt that way. He had an MRI taken during the off-season that showed something called a SLAP tear in his pitching shoulder. It is a fraying of the ring of tissue, called the labrum, which surrounds the shoulder socket.
"I would say 90 percent of all pitchers have it to some degree," Fien said. "But once Toronto got word of it, they said I was a liability, that I'd be prone to injury and that they didn't want to take a chance on me.
"Look, I've never had any problems. I don't have any problems now. I'm healthy and that was why I was able to come back to the Tigers. They're the team that knows me best and they know I'm healthy."
So why have the MRI test done?
Fien called last season "the longest of my career," considering he pitched in 42 games for Toledo, nine for the Tigers, and in five for Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
"I was the only guy in Puerto Rico with any big-league time and they put me out there three out of four days," he said. "They really sort of abused me, so I left. My arm was tired. It had been a long year. When I got home, I thought I should have the MRI."
Sager and the Mud Hens are glad he found his way back to them.
"He's a strike thrower," Sager said. "The only downside is that with all his travels Casey didn't get a lot of work this spring."
He'll get it in Toledo. He led the Hens with 15 saves a year ago while striking out 66 and walking 15 in 58 innings. Projected over nine innings, his average numbers would have been 10.2 strikeouts and 1.86 walks per nine innings. Yes, that's a lot of strikes.
He's glad that he'll once again be throwing them for the Hens.
"Toledo is awesome," he said. "The fans are tremendous and the stadium is unbelievable compared to all the others. If you're playing in the minors, it's the place to be. Another week, I guess, and I'll be headed up that way. I can hardly wait."
It's good to know where you're going, especially if it helps ease the pain of where you've been.
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