ERIE, Pa. – Sandy Baez was thrust into the fire on June 4.
The Tigers promoted the Erie SeaWolves pitcher that day to serve as the “26th man” in a doubleheader against the Yankees. The biggest reason the 24-year-old right-hander got the call may have been because he was on Detroit’s 40-man roster, meaning no roster machinations were needed to add him.
Then, suddenly, Baez was sent to the mound.
But the native of the Dominican Republic did not get burned: He threw four scoreless, hitless innings against the Bronx Bombers in his major-league debut and pitched around three walks and a hit batsman thanks in part to four strikeouts.
“It was a great experience,” Baez said through interpreter Santiago Garrido in the Erie clubhouse Friday when asked about his day in the majors. “It’s something I’ve dreamt about since I was a kid.
“That’s why I get so emotional thinking about. It’s a great experience I’ll never forget.”
It is also an experience Baez, who is considered the No. 19 prospect in the organization by MLB.com, would like to repeat soon. But before he can do that, the 6-2, 180-pounder will need to solve hitters in the Double-A Eastern League.
In his first 13 starts for the SeaWolves, Baez is 1-5 with a 4.74 ERA. In a June 20 start against New Hampshire he surrendered seven hits and three walks that resulted in five runs, and he was unable to survive the third inning.
“Sandy has an above-average fastball that averages 94-95 mph, and in the past I’ve seen him touch 97-98,” Erie manager Andrew Graham said. “But command of the fastball is the question.
“When he gets behind in the court, he tends to leave it up and that’s when he gets hurt. But when he’s ‘on,’ he’s down in the zone and mixes in a slider and a ‘foshball,’ a kind of splitter, and he can have success.”
Baez has 25 walks in 68⅓ innings at Erie this season, but historically he has not struggled to throw strikes. The question has been about whether he can consistently throw quality strikes.
“I’m working to throw my fastball on both sides of the plate and also trying to throw it up in the zone when I want and down when I want,” Baez said. “I’m also working on my slider.”
The strikeouts will come: In his first start for the SeaWolves this season, Baez struck out 10 in 4⅔ innings. But on the season he has surrendered 72 hits, including 12 home runs that ties for second-most in the Eastern League, while issuing 25 walks.
“It about learning how to read swings,” Graham said of Baez. “It’s about learning what pitches to throw in what counts – and keeping his fastball down.
“He pitched four hitless innings against the Yankees, so we know it’s in there. We just need to get the consistency out of him.”
So for now that day of domination over the Bronx Bombers is a memory – and a motivator to improve in Erie to hopefully earn a promotion to the Mud Hens and eventually return to the Tigers as well.
“I’m not looking ‘up’ right now,” Baez said. “I’m letting the coaches and front office make the decisions.
“I’m just focused on doing my job here.”
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