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Friday, May 23, 2014

Danny Worth might be the most effective fielder-turned-pitcher in Tigers franchise history — better than Ty Cobb, even

DETROIT — Ty Cobb would be jealous.

Danny Worth has something that the Georgia Peach does not.

Two strikeouts.

“I think a lot of the pitchers in the dugout were jealous. He struck out two in one inning,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after the shortstop Worth pitched the ninth inning of Thursday’s game.

“His strikeout-to-innings ratio is pretty good.”

According to research on, Worth became the ninth different Detroit Tigers position player to enter a game as a relief pitcher. One of them was Ty Cobb, who appeared for two innings each in the second game of doubleheaders on consecutive days in Sept. 1918.

Teammate Bobby Veach, the left fielder, was also called upon for two innings in that second twinbill nightcap in 1918.

Infielder Ben Dyer appeared in two games a month apart earlier in that season.

Cobb came back to throw one inning in the nightcap of a doubleheader late in the 1925 season, earning a save.

None of those guys struck anyone out, though.

Nor did Shane Halter, when he infamously played all nine positions on the last day of the 2000 season. Nor did Don Kelly when he closed out the game against the Mets in June, 2011, the last time a Tigers position player took the mound.

The only two Tigers position players that Baseball-Reference lists as having struck out batters in relief appearances had more extensive pitching experience.

Mark Koenig — normally a reserve infielder, like Worth — started one game in 1930, then made three relief appearances in 1931, striking out one each time.

The last Tigers position player to throw a full inning of relief was “Wonderful” Willie Smith in 1963. Although he’d go on to play nearly 700 games in the field at either left field or first base for four other teams, he was primarily a pitcher for the Tigers, having appeared as a pitcher in 101 of his 431 career minor league games, starting 80.

He started two games for the Tigers in 1963, and relieved in nine other games, compiling 21 2/3 innings in his rookie season.

Obligatorily, Smith had the most success as a reliever, striking out four in five innings on Sept. 18, 1963, when he had to take over for starter Phil Regan in the first inning, then striking out two in two innings a week later.

Even if you classify Smith as a “position player” (he did not appear at any other position other than pitcher for the Tigers in 1963), Worth is still in pretty select company.

If not, he might possibly be the most effective fielder-turned-pitcher in franchise history.

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