Notes: Eischen hopes to fit into bullpen
Left-handed specialist eager to earn his keep on Tigers
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The memories might fade, but the numbers don't.
Joey Eischen wasn't around very long as a Tiger to make an impression back in 1996, pitching in 24 games after a deadline deal from the Dodgers and before being dealt to the Padres that winter, earning his first Major League win in between. A decade has followed, but there are no sentimental reasons for his return. He's back because, if he's healthy, he can get left-handed hitters out.
"If they want me on the team, I will help the team," he said Sunday morning. "I'm not here for a charity case. I'm here because I can help this team win. I'm not looking for a handout."
The stats aren't murky. He held lefties to 2-for-25 last year while pitching through rotator cuff problems that eventually led to surgery. A year earlier, he struck out 20 of the 72 left-handed hitters he faced. In 2004, lefties went 4-for-24 off of him. He's held lefties to .226 for his career.
If he has a working arm -- or half a rotator cuff last year, as he put it -- he can pitch against lefties. This Spring Training is about making sure he's back and determining whether he's needed.
"He's got a lot of experience," manager Jim Leyland said. "He didn't pitch a lot last year, but left-handers did not do very well against him at all."
Like fellow non-roster reliever Felix Heredia, he doesn't come to camp needing to prove what he can do so much as that he can still do it. He is the prototypical left-handed specialist, and he was valued enough that even with Jamie Walker, the Tigers tried to trade for Eischen last Spring Training. The deal fell through because Nationals manager Frank Robinson wanted Eischen around. Likewise Eischen, strongly loyal to Robinson, wanted to be around for Robinson's 1,000th career managerial victory.
Eischen, his shoulder hurting, kept taking the ball until his rotator cuff went at the end of May. While he was rehabbing his arm, the Tigers were heading towards the World Series. Yet when the Nationals let him go in October, the Tigers were back trying to get him on their roster, at least for 2007.
"They called the day that I got released while they were in the playoffs," Eischen said. "That was enough for me."
Eischen wanted to find a place where he could fit in, not only with his arm but with his intense personality. He had spent the better part of a decade with the Nationals franchise going back to its Montreal years, and now he is making a move at age 36. He discovered plenty watching the Tigers on television in October.
"It was fun to watch," he said. "This team has a lot of characters, a lot of personality, guys that wear their hearts on their sleeve, so to speak. And I enjoyed watching them."
"I have a lot of energy. That's a good way to put it," he said. "I'm just trying to get to know everybody and let everybody get to know me and be quiet. I'm just very excited to start playing."
He has tried to be a quiet presence in the clubhouse so far. But once the games start, his pitching might be the easiest way to fit.
"This is the first time I've been a new guy in a while," Eischen said. "I'm just trying to do my job, be quiet, try to fit in wherever I fit in on this team. They don't need any help in this clubhouse. They need a couple pieces, but the puzzle's pretty much put together. I just want to be a piece that fits."
Deal or no deal: While Carlos Guillen has been in every day working out, he's keeping talks about a contract extension out of his mind. It hasn't been a distraction so far, and he doesn't expect it to be once games start.
"We have plenty of time," Guillen said. "I just come here to play. I've got my agent [Peter Greenberg]. He does his work. I do my work."
Not surprisingly, Guillen said Detroit is his first choice where he would like to strike a deal. "Maybe my last choice," he said.
Leyland doesn't expect any distractions, either. As he pointed out, Barry Bonds won a National League MVP in his free-agent year in Pittsburgh in 1992.
"Everybody knows how I feel about Carlos Guillen," Leyland said. "Carlos Guillen knows how I feel about Carlos Guillen. We have an excellent relationship. He knows I want him, but that's really not my area. That's up to him and his agent and [GM] Dave [Dombrowski]. And Dave goes very well at that.
"Carlos Guillen's going to be a [heck of a] player for us this year. However it plays out in the end, will have no bearing on how he plays this year. I'm sure there's been some guys in the past who have put a little extra pressure on themselves because of the year that they're in."
Workout wrap: Cold, windy conditions finally forced the Tigers inside for their workouts. Pitchers on schedule to throw bullpen sessions Sunday did so in the cage, and the only outside work consisted of pitchers fielding ground balls and doing some light tossing. They'll do more involved situational fielding work on Monday.
Thames to work out: Marcus Thames is expected to begin working at first base in the coming days as the Tigers try to enhance his versatility and find ways to get him more at-bats. Leyland talked with Thames, who said he's getting the hang of playing at first.
That said, Leyland is cautioning against unrealistic expectations. As he said again, Thames is not going to be Vic Power, the seven-time Gold Glove winner at first during the 1950s and early '60s.
"When you experiment with something," Leyland said, "you have to understand ahead of time we're not going to make a miracle."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.