BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH Enlarge
When Matt Tuiasosopo signed as a minor-league free agent with the Tigers last offseason, there was a chance he would play for the Mud Hens.
But the 27-year-old said he never considered playing at Fifth Third Field.
“I had one thing on my mind: Making the [Tigers],” Tuiasosopo said. “And it all worked out pretty well.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view.
Tuiasosopo finally played for the Mud Hens, but it was on a rehab assignment after going on Detroit’s disabled list June 21. Tuiasosopo had a double in four at-bats Thursday as part of Toledo’s 7-0 win over Columbus.
“If everything goes well, I’ll probably head to Cleveland [for the Tigers’ series against the Indians today],” Tuiasosopo said.
Tuiasosopo has played in 37 games for Detroit, primarily as a pinch-hitter and as part of a leftfield platoon with Andy Dirks. He said he tries to not put too much pressure on himself, and the result has been a .338 batting average with three homers and 17 RBIs.
“I just try to be free out there when I cross the line,” he said. “I’ve put in the work before the game — in the batting cage, in the weight room, during batting practice.
“Once the game starts, the results are going to be what they are going to be. But if you’ve put in the work and trust your ability, you can be at peace with what happens.”
Tuiasosopo, the son of Manu Tuiasosopo, a defensive lineman who played in the NFL for Seattle, was a highly regarded prospect for the Mariners. But he never lived up to his billing with Seattle, and played for Triple-A Buffalo last year before signing with the Tigers.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, especially playing for my hometown team,” Tuiasosopo said of his time with Seattle. “Coming up as a prospect, I put so much pressure on myself, feeling I had to do this or do that. … I didn’t have that peace or freedom of going out every day and enjoying [playing ball].
“This spring I had a great spring where everything clicked and everything felt good.”
Tuiasosopo had two hits in his five Mud Hens at-bats and reached base five times in eight plate appearances. He certainly impressed Toledo manager Phil Nevin.
“He’s a good athlete,” Nevin said of Tuiasosopo. “When we saw him with Buffalo last year, he was playing centerfield.
“His timing looked good. … Most of the at-bats he will get against lefties, and his at-bats against lefties were pretty good.”
In Thursday’s win, the star of the game was Toledo starter Ramon Garcia, who limited Columbus to two hits and two walks in six shutout innings while posting a season-high seven strikeouts.
“He threw strikes and pounded the zone,” Nevin said. “A lot of guys could watch him pitch and learn a lot of things from the way he goes about [pitching].
“Throwing strikes and using your defense are the name of the game.”
Garcia allowed a single and a walk to the first two batters he faced, then got a double play and a groundout to start a string where he retired 14 of the 15 batters he faced.
“He gets in those grooves where he puts the ball where he wants to and keeps guys off balance,” Nevin said. “You see a lot of guys going back to the bat rack frustrated.”
Blaine Hardy pitched two scoreless innings, and Jose Valverde threw a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the win, Toledo’s sixth shutout victory this season.
Meanwhile, the Mud Hens offense pounded out 10 hits, five for extra bases, to win for just the fourth time in the last 13 games.
Toledo scored once in the third, then added three runs in the fourth thanks in part to a two-run double by Danny Worth.
Mike Cervenak slammed a two-run homer in the fifth, and an RBI double by Ben Guez in the eighth closed out the scoring.
“I thought our patience [at the plate] was good,” Nevin said. “When [Columbus starter T.J.] House lost command of the [strike] zone, we were willing to take walks.
“And when he had to come into the zone, we got some big hits. We had a lot of quality at-bats throughout the lineup.”
NOTES: Tuiasosopo bought the postgame spread for his teammates the past two nights. Wednesday’s dinner came from The Beirut, while Thursday the food was from Outback Steakhouse. … Thursday’s crowd of 10,500 was the Mud Hens’ 14th sellout this season and the 341st since Fifth Third Field opened in 2002.