Filling Verlander's spot, Lobstein makes most of it

Filling Verlander's spot, Lobstein makes most of it

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Kyle Lobstein went into Spring Training last season worrying about where he was going to end up. As a Rule 5 Draft pick, the left-hander had to either make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to Tampa Bay, his former organization.

He didn't make the roster, but the Tigers saw enough to acquire his full rights from the Rays in a trade. It might have ended up being the best thing that could have happened to him. A year later, and a full Minor League season in the Tigers organization under his belt, he's showing the difference.

"It's such a funny situation being a Rule 5 pick," Lobstein said. "It's an exciting time for sure, but at the same time it's so uncertain. It's hard to try and settle down, so to say. But last year, the guys were very welcoming to me, so it helped a lot to try to make me more comfortable. With this year, definitely, I can tell a difference just in how comfortable [I feel]. It's a better feeling."

With Justin Verlander poised to rejoin the rotation next week, Lobstein stepped into the open rotation spot this first turn through Grapefruit League play on Saturday against the Astros. He not only shut down Houston, he became the first Tigers pitcher this spring to toss three innings, walking one and striking out four without allowing a hit in a 5-1 victory.

In so doing, he staked his claim to an insurance starter role he would have had no chance at without last spring's trade. Had he made the Tigers roster, he would've filled an extra bullpen role, his situations limited. Had he gone back to the Rays, he would've been stuck in the middle of their farm system again, behind their young core of talented starters.

The 24-year-old Lobstein went 13-7 with a 3.27 ERA in 28 starts, near-evenly split between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.

"I'm really trying to build off of last year," Lobstein said. "I went the whole regular season as a starter, and I know that's what they want me working on right now. I just really have to take that mindset."

Lobstein doesn't overpower hitters, but his pitches have movement that will keep them off-balance, resulting in a strikeout rate that belies his style. He hit 88-90 mph Saturday, according to a scout in attendance, but his pitches had life. Three of his four strikeouts were called, at least two of them on offspeed pitches.

"He threw well. He looked good," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He threw everything for strikes, clean innings. His command looked really good."

Jason Beck is a reporter for 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.