Chris Lambert knows he's a different pitcher this year - but not for the reasons you might think.
Sure, he's a year older, which means he has more experience. And he's certain to have more confidence after ranking last season among the International League's leaders in ERA and victories.
But the biggest difference in Lambert comes from his eight appearances with the Tigers at the end of last season.
"It was nerve-wracking, getting up there for the first time and trying to work my way through things," Lambert admitted while at the Mud Hens' January Fandemonium. "But it was fun. I think I learned a lot, and as the nerves went away I think I did better."
The right-hander, who will turn 26 in March, allowed six runs - only two of which were earned - and five hits in 2.2 innings to lose his major-league debut Aug. 26. After two more starts, Lambert moved to the bullpen, and after five more appearances his ledger stood at 1-2 with a 5.66 ERA.
But Lambert said his first big-league experience wasn't about numbers.
"It was an opportunity to get my feet wet and get comfortable," he said.
"If I get another opportunity, I think I can jump right in and not have any reservations."
Mud Hens pitching coach A.J. Sager, who spent five years in the majors, said pitching in the majors can provide valuable lessons for young pitchers.
"I think the biggest [value to pitching in the majors] is that they get exposed to what we've been teaching them: The importance of throwing down in the strike zone, the importance of pitching ahead in the count, and the importance of throwing strikes," Sager said.
"It can be a humbling experience, but at the same time it can be a confidence booster."
Lambert will be given an opportunity to earn a spot on Detroit's pitching staff this spring, which is another difference from last year.
A year ago Lambert was a newcomer to the Tigers' spring training process, having joined the organization in a trade with St. Louis at the end of 2006.
"Mentally, coming in last year I didn't know anyone and everything was new because it was a new organization," he said. "Now I feel I have a good grasp on what is going to happen in spring training - and what I need to do."
Last year Lambert finished with a 12-8 record in 26 starts for the Mud Hens, posting a 3.50 ERA that was fifth-best in the IL.
But Sager said he expects Lambert - and any pitcher who begins this season with Toledo instead of Detroit - to have a good attitude.
"Pitchers hear stuff about having better focus and having a better idea [of pitch selection] in the minors, but some are talented enough to get by without doing those things," Sager said.
"You hear about guys who are sent back down and don't want to work, and it's good that we haven't experienced that.
"Once a guy has been [in the majors], they want to stay there. They may be disappointed - and that's good, because you don't want them to be happy here - but they usually come back a little more focused, especially on the things they have to do to be successful up there."