Achter seeks breakthrough with hometown team

Achter seeks breakthrough with hometown team

LAKELAND, Fla. -- A.J. Achter grew up a Tigers fan down the road in Toledo, Ohio. His family had season tickets to the Triple-A Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field when Craig Monroe roamed the outfield. He played in the same ballpark as a teenager, winning City League titles with Clay High School, before going on to Michigan State University.

When Achter had interest from Detroit in his first chance at free agency, the right-handed reliever jumped at the chance. As he competes for a job this Spring Training, he has the chance to jump-start his career where his roots are planted.

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"Just coming in here and seeing my name on a Tigers uniform was pretty cool, pretty surreal," Achter said. "I've put on a couple big-league uniforms before and I understand what responsibility that means, but this one means a little more.

"I've been here long enough to know that this is a career move rather than just a get-back-close-to-home move. From that standpoint, it's a great opportunity, and one that I'm just looking forward to coming in and competing to the best of my ability."

When the Tigers looked for pitching depth this offseason, Achter was a sensible match. The 28-year-old has 45 games of Major League experience between the Twins' and Angels' bullpens, and put up some solid stretches for the Angels last year with a 3.11 ERA. Most of the damage came early: He allowed four runs on 18 hits over 17 1/3 innings from August on, including a perfect eighth inning at Comerica Park on Aug. 26. He eventually worked into some higher-leverage situations in the seventh and eighth innings in September.

"Obviously the Tigers were very high on the list, and not just because they're close to home," Achter said. "I feel like from a career standpoint [it made sense] for me to go to a team that wanted me and was going to give me a big league camp opportunity, but was going to give me at least a chance to compete for a big league job and show something in camp."

The Minor League deal with a non-roster invite to camp came together in early December, just as Achter was enjoying another big family moment: He was getting married.

"I signed the contract the day of my rehearsal dinner," he said, "and got married the next day. That was a fun time to announce to the family what was going on. It was pretty cool."

He calls Michigan home these days, living west of Detroit in the city of Brighton. He spent the winter alternating workout sites between Toledo and East Lansing, where he could throw indoors. But he's not just looking for an easy commute. He wants to find a spot in the bullpen.

It might not happen right away with the depth the Tigers have assembled. But it wouldn't be a shock this summer to see Achter pitching at Comerica Park again, this time wearing the home jersey.

"Most like everyone in this clubhouse, I'm just searching for consistency at the big league level," he said. "I've shown that at the Triple-A level for three or four years now that I can do it, so it's time to make that next step."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. 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.