IL notes: Knebel learns big league lessons

Tigers pitching prospect was on fast track before returning to Toledo

Corey Knebel is 3-1 with three saves and a 1.91 ERA at two Minor League stops this season. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

By John Wagner / Special to | July 7, 2014 10:00 AM ET

To say that Toledo's Corey Knebel was on the fast track to the big leagues is an understatement.

It took the right-handed pitcher less than two seasons to reach the Majors. But after six appearances with Detroit, Knebel was optioned back to the Mud Hens.

Now comes the tricky part: earning a second promotion to the Tigers, and sticking this time.

"I was surprised [at the first callup] -- a lot of this is coming at me quickly," Knebel said. "But it's still kind of a roller coaster. I still haven't come down from being in the Majors."

A compensation pick by the Tigers out of the University of Texas in the 2013 Draft, Knebel jumped from Class A West Michigan to the Arizona Fall League. He began this season at Double-A Erie and was 3-0 with one save and a 1.20 ERA in 11 appearances to earn a promotion to Toledo in May.

"What allowed him to [move so quickly] is that you can't teach his curveball -- you either have it or you don't," said Mud Hens skipper Larry Parrish, who also managed Knebel at West Michigan. "He has good downhill plane on his fastball when he's throwing well. He can really spin a curveball and he has a good slider and changeup, too.

"When he pitches in relief, he doesn't use those pitches a lot, but he does have them."

Knebel's first stay in Toledo was brief. He made three appearances for the Mud Hens, allowing two hits and a walk while fanning four in four innings, before he was called up to Detroit.

The 22-year-old struggled in his first Major League appearance, giving up three runs on two hits and two walks in one inning against Texas on May 24. He pitched with the Tigers five more times and had a 6.75 ERA, although he struck out eight over 6 2/3 innings, before returning to Toledo in mid-June.

"I learned a lot of stuff that I'm going to [grow from]," Knebel said of his time with Detroit. "My fastball command was off, and I learned that big league hitters can tell when a pitch isn't a ball. Big league hitters are more patient, so you can't try to be too perfect."

Since his return to the IL, Knebel has been nearly perfect. He's given up two hits but has walked five in 7 1/3 innings.

If you take away a bad outing on June 27 at Gwinnett, Knebel has struck out nine and walked three over 6 1/3 hitless innings. IL foes are batting .121 against him, and he's 0-1 with two saves and a 2.38 ERA in 10 appearances with Toledo.

The strong numbers have justified the decision Detroit made before the season began to place Knebel in the bullpen. With his repertoire of four "plus" pitches, there was discussion within the organization to make the 6-foot-3 195-pounder a starter.

"I feel more comfortable coming out of the bullpen," Knebel said. "I love that moment when I'm told to 'get hot,' and I get excited about that. As a starter, you have to be more relaxed."

Of course, it's hard to stay relaxed when you're riding the roller coaster Knebel has been on to this point. If he continues to pitch well, though, he'll get a second chance to put Major League hitters on edge.

In brief

Hot bat: IF Rey Navarro joined Louisville's roster on June 18 and he started hitting right away. He's come to the plate in 13 games for the Bats and has at least one hit in each of those contests. Navarro is batting .347 with two homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs scored. He also has four walks for a .389 on-base percentage, and his 17 hits include five doubles as well as the two homers for a .571 slugging percentage.

What a relief: Rochester's A.J. Achter does not rank among the IL save leaders, but he is among the league's top relievers. Achter is 2-2 with a 1.70 ERA in 24 relief appearances for the Red Wings, having allowed 19 hits and 14 walks in 42 1/3 innings. IL foes are hitting .136 against him. With four, Achter is one of nine Red Wings with at least one save; Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin lead the team with five apiece.

He said it: "It was what we needed at the time we needed it. We needed to get the game over so we could start the fireworks." -- Gwinnett OF Todd Cunningham to the Gwinnett Daily Post on July 4 after making a diving catch for the final out in the Braves' 3-2 win over Durham. Cunningham also had four hits, including a double and a triple.

He said it, part II: "We'd like to get it done in nine, but if it takes longer to get a win, you get a win. It is what it is. We've all been through it before. Extra innings is part of the game. We just go with whatever we've got." -- Buffalo 1B Dan Johnson to the Buffalo News on July 3 after hitting a walk-off homer in the Bisons' 1-0 extra-inning win over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the first game of a doubleheader. Johnson leads the IL with 17 homers and ranks second with 52 RBIs.

John Wagner is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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