Furbush gets first crack as Thomas hits DL

Furbush gets first crack as Thomas hits DL

Furbush gets first crack as Thomas hits DL
PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Furbush began last season in Class A Lakeland, trying to work his way back into form after Tommy John surgery. Little more than 13 months later, he arrived at PNC Park on Saturday and looked out onto a Major League field, wearing a big league uniform.

"I'm trying to take it all in right now," said Furbush, who was called up Saturday morning to replace injured Brad Thomas in the Tigers bullpen. "It happened pretty fast, and I'm trying to soak in every second I have up here. It's tough for Brad to go down with an injury. Hopefully he can come back and get back to being healthy and doing what he does. But hey, I'm really not trying to get ahead of myself and [I'm] trying to take the same approach I do when I'm on the mound."

Furbush's opportunity came due to Thomas' injury. The reliever's left elbow locked up on him Friday and left him unavailable for the series opener here against the Pirates. Thomas was scheduled to be checked out Saturday morning, but the Tigers couldn't wait long without a roster move. His absence for any stretch would've left Daniel Schlereth as the lone left-hander in Detroit's bullpen.

Thus, by Saturday morning, Furbush had the call and was on a plane from Charlotte, where Triple-A Toledo had just wrapped up a road trip Friday night. He was scheduled to pitch in Toledo on Sunday, so he had enough rest to be available in the bullpen Saturday night if needed.

Furbush had worked as a reliever in Spring Training and was an outside candidate to crack the bullpen, though the Tigers soon determined that they'd rather have him ready as an insurance starter in case they needed help there.

"I think there was talk going into Spring Training to see if he might fit in a left-handed relief role or something," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Our choice right now would [have been] to have kept him down there and continue to pitch, but hey, right now it dictates something different."

The way Furbush has been pitching, he can fill in most anywhere. His numbers at Toledo this year, and at three different levels last year, came as a starter with multiple out pitches. After ranking second among all Minor League pitchers last year with 183 strikeouts over 159 innings, the 25-year-old southpaw leads the International League with 55 strikeouts over 46 1/3 innings this season with the Mud Hens.

Just as impressive, and indicative of a big step in his development, he has managed to largely hold down hitters even when they put the ball in play. His 4-3 record over eight starts belies a 2.91 ERA, which kept him in some low-scoring affairs. Two of his starts were one-hit performances over seven and eight innings, the latter coming in defeat against Charlotte on the same day Justin Verlander pitched his no-hitter at Toronto.

Neither Leyland nor Furbush expect his arsenal to change in a relief role.

"I've never been a bullpen guy," said Furbush, an occasional closer in college. "But if that's where they want me, that's fine. Just going to try to learn from the big-league camp and learn how to take the approach, not try to do more than I can. That's where I ended up walking too many guys, or trying to make a pitch I wanted to be the best pitch ever, instead of just making the pitch I know I can make."

That said, Leyland isn't expecting Furbush to be the savior of a recently struggling bullpen. More important, he said, is to get Joaquin Benoit back in his old form to get back into eighth-inning duties with some reliability.

As for Thomas, tests conducted Friday night showed no structural damage.

"Right now, we've just got to get the swelling out," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said.

Because the Tigers backdated Thomas' DL stint to May 11, the day after his last outing, Thomas could conceivably be back in less than a week.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.