CLEVELAND -- Francisco Cruceta could begin pitching in Minor League games next week as the Tigers try to get the well-touted right-handed reliever ready for the big leagues.
Cruceta, signed last fall as a potential setup man in the Detroit bullpen, missed all of Spring Training while dealing with visa issues in the Dominican Republic. His application for a U.S. visa was finally approved a week ago, allowing him to report to extended Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla.
From there, he has been working his way back into game shape, though he pitched in the Tigers' Dominican complex for part of the time while he waited on his visa. So far, he has had no troubles getting ready. He threw two innings on Monday, and is scheduled to pitch in back-to-back outings Thursday and Friday, according to player development director Glenn Ezell.
If he completes his outings, the Tigers will evaluate where he's at and decide where he will go from there. Whatever the choice, he's expected to pitch in Minor League contests at some level before the Tigers make the decision on whether and when to promote him to the Majors.
Time is on the Tigers' side. Because the team placed Cruceta on Major League Baseball's restricted list when the season started, they received a 30-day period in which to evaluate him before they have to decide whether to add him back onto the 25-man roster, trade him or designate him for assignment. That countdown began when he reported to extended Spring Training and began working out. Once he begins pitching in Minor League games, however, that countdown will drop to 15 days.
If he can pitch like he did in winter ball, he could make the Tigers' decision relatively simple. The 26-year-old displayed a mid-90s fastball and nasty slider while pitching in the Dominican Winter League before continuing into the Caribbean Series in early February. The Tigers beat other clubs to sign him in November with a big league contract offer and a chance to pitch in late innings. His situation was one of several setbacks the Tigers suffered in their bullpen during the spring, forcing them to go into the season with several pitchers untested in new roles besides closer Todd Jones.
If the Tigers do call up Cruceta, it would mark his first big league appearance since 2006, when he made a start and three relief appearances for the Mariners. He spent 2007 at Triple-A Oklahoma in the Rangers farm system, where he allowed just 38 hits over 65 2/3 innings with 40 walks and 70 strikeouts. He made just 25 appearances in part because of a 50-game suspension he received for testing positive for performance enhancing substances.
The suspension was believed to be one reason behind the delay in his visa. Rays Minor Leaguer and fellow Dominican national Juan Salas faced similar delays this spring after a 50-game suspension last year.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.