LAKELAND, Fla. -- Major League managers, Brad Ausmus among them, warn about putting too much stock into Spring Training performance. The Grapefruit League sensation in March can be buried in the Minors by midseason, if not sooner.
Angel Nesbitt was that pitcher last year -- from the Tigers' bullpen on Opening Day to Triple-A Toledo in mid-June, from potential closer of the future discussion to no September callup. He's back this spring, and he thinks he can show he belongs in the big leagues.
"I think I feel ready," he said. "If they give me another chance, I'm going to be good."
However, he returns knowing better than to try to prove a point. That was part of his struggle in the first place.
"Just throw the ball," he said. "Have fun. Be consistent. Hit the spot. Be smart. That's what I have to do."
That's what he did last spring, his first big league camp, to get his chance. For a month and a half, Nesbitt was a productive rookie, allowing four earned runs on nine hits over 13 1/3 innings with two walks and 11 strikeouts. He gave up the go-ahead run in a 10-inning loss to the Royals on May 10, but he came back with a scoreless 10th to get the win over the Twins two days later.
Once the struggles arrived, he couldn't shake them, giving up nine runs on 13 hits and six walks in 8 1/3 innings over his final 11 appearances. That followed him to Toledo, where he gave up 54 hits and 21 walks over 40 1/3 innings to go with a 6.25 ERA.
"When I came to Toledo, I was doing the same thing the first week or two," Nesbitt said. "I was thinking too much like, 'I'm going to come back this week, I'm going to come back [the next] week.'"
He regained some momentum in winter ball, tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings with one hit, three walks and five strikeouts for Margarita in the Venezuelan League. He then picked up some tips from Tigers teammate and fellow Venezuelan Anibal Sanchez, with whom he worked out in January.
"We were working on his release point," Sanchez said. "He needed to be more in front. He had trouble with location. Everything I said to him was [to] just focus more on the location than throwing hard."
When Nesbitt throws hard, he can be intimidating, hitting the upper 90s with his fastball. But he has to locate.
Sanchez and Nesbitt also talked about the importance of getting loose so he can repeat his delivery, given his big frame (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) and tight arms.
While Nesbitt's two months in the big leagues knocked him off of MLB.com's Tigers prospects list, it didn't knock him out of the Tigers' thought process.
"He's still got very good stuff," Ausmus said. "He still has a chance to be a very good Major League pitcher. But he's young. He basically jumped a level [last year] and has since gone back to Triple-A, and hopefully he's learned from his experience."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.