BOSTON -- The Tigers came one step closer to adding a reliever, even if it's a reliever they've been counting on since last fall.
After waiting about two months for Francisco Cruceta to arrive, the Tigers received news on Wednesday that the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved his application for a visa to work in the States. Cruceta will be free to pick up his visa on Thursday and then travel from his native Dominican Republic to the U.S., finally ending a saga that ran through Spring Training and into the regular season.
Once Cruceta reports to the Tigers' Spring Training complex in Lakeland, Fla., Detroit will have 30 days to evaluate him before he must be either placed on the 25-man roster, sent to the Minors or otherwise moved. Because he's out of Minor League options, he would have to be designated for assignment and clear waivers in order to be outrighted to the Minors.
The Tigers signed Cruceta to a Major League contract last November with hopes of making him a big part of their bullpen, having scouted him during a strong season of winter ball in the Dominican League. His role loomed larger once Joel Zumaya underwent shoulder surgery and the Tigers didn't sign any of the major free-agent relievers on the market.
With a spot in the bullpen seemingly secure, however, those plans went awry when Cruceta couldn't report to camp. While days and weeks went by, there was no news of progress on his application. He worked out for part of Spring Training at the Tigers' development complex in the Dominican, but Detroit eventually had to move on without him. Cruceta was placed on Major League Baseball's restricted list when the season began, allowing the Tigers to retain his rights without having him take up a roster spot while his situation remained in limbo.
Though the Tigers kept their comments limited, the strong belief was that the delay stemmed in large part from the 50-game suspension Cruceta received last season in the Pacific Coast League after a positive test for performance-enhancing substances. Another pitcher coming off a similar suspension, Tampa Bay Minor Leaguer and fellow Dominican Juan Salas, also went through Spring Training without a visa approval.
The 26-year-old Cruceta had a breakthrough last season at Triple-A Oklahoma in the Texas Rangers organization. Showing command and poise that he had lacked in his younger days, he used a mid-90s fastball and nasty slider to scatter just 38 hits over 65 2/3 innings with two home runs, 40 walks, 70 strikeouts and a 3.02 ERA.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.