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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Before the 2021 season, Ian Krol hadn't pitched in MLB since May 27, 2018, as a member of the Los Angeles Angels. By last year, he had completely dropped off the radar, throwing for the Nerds Herd in the City of Champions Cup in Joliet, Illinois.
And then the Detroit Tigers called.
Krol, 30, signed a minor-league contract in December. On July 9, he finally returned to the big leagues. He previously pitched for the Tigers in 2014-15, a couple of years before his career seemed busted.
"This year has been awesome," Krol said Friday, after making his 14th relief appearance in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. "This year has been a total win for me. I couldn't really have asked for more. The goal is to make it to the big leagues, but staying here is another goal that can be realistic or not. You have to battle through some of the ups and downs."
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Against the Rays, the Tigers were behind, 5-1, in the seventh inning.
Krol struck out Randy Arozarena, an American League Rookie of the Year candidate, looking with a 94 mph fastball. Despite Brandon Lowe's single, he responded by striking out Taylor Walls on four pitches. The left-hander produced swinging strikes with back-to-back changeups to end the at-bat.
"Ian's got some pretty good stuff when he's inside the strike zone," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Friday. "I like the secondary pitches when he uses them. We're paying close attention to how he's handling left-handed hitters. That's always key for him."
Pitching a scoreless seventh, Krol used nine sliders, four two-seam fastballs, three four-seam fastballs, two changeups and one curveball. He generated three swings and misses: twice from his changeup and once from his four-seamer.
"He hasn't gotten a ton of opportunity at this level," Hinch said. "He's had some maybe less than glorious spots to have to pitch and then some time in between outings. I'm trying to get him some regular work the best I can. The more he spins the ball, the better. He's going to be a secondary pitch-first type guy. He's got a good fastball. When he does that, the velocity has been pretty good in his last couple of outings. Execution of his spin is what I'm really paying attention to."
The lack of an opportunity became evident when Krol made just 12 appearances between his July 9 debut and Aug. 28, when he was designated for assignment a second time to make room for right-hander Jose Urena's return from the injured list.
Krol cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Toledo.
"It can be frustrating, but like I said, the goal was to just get back to the big leagues and put myself back on the map," Krol said. "Anything more than that is a plus. Next year, obviously, I'm looking to make a team out of spring. Whatever happens, it happens. Right now, I'm pretty content with how the season has gone.
"I do know I've been used correctly and more often in the past, and it's worked out pretty well for me. When I get those opportunities, I'll try to make the most of them."
On Sept. 11, Krol came back to the Tigers.
Detroit sent lefty starter Matthew Boyd to the injured list with left elbow strain, so the organization called on Krol to help the pitching staff down the stretch. Overall, Krol has a 4.61 ERA, five walks and 12 strikeouts over 13⅔ innings in 14 outings.
"The more I get out there, the more comfortable I am and the more rhythm I have," Krol said. "It's just like anything, the more you do it, the more repetitive it gets, the better you'll be at it. Going between six days to 12 days rest without pitching as a reliever is very tough. You're trying to do everything you can to throw bullpens on the side, but it's never game speed or as real as it is in a game.
"But AJ and (pitching coach) Chris Fetter have been unbelievable as far as help and confidence. Honestly, there are some games I didn't get in, but they were close and the guys down there right now (Alex Lange, Kyle Funkhouser, Michael Fulmer, Gregory Soto) are dealing. You can't blame anybody. I'm just thankful for the opportunity. They've been very good to me. I really appreciate it."
The Tigers placed right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero on the 10-day injured list Tuesday, retroactive to Monday, with a right elbow laceration. The injury occurred when he fell down the stairs at his home. He needed eight stitches.
The 32-year-old is eligible to return Sept. 23 from the injured list.
"We have to see how it heals and how his range of motion and all that stuff is with the skin," Hinch said. "I hope he's back (this season). But until the seven to 10 days of the stitches, we're not going to know anything."
Cisnero has a 3.65 ERA with 31 walks and 62 strikeouts over 61⅔ innings this season. He has pitched a team-high 67 games.
"He is with the team," Hinch said. "He's got stitches that aren't pulled out yet, so he may do a little throwing here once the doctors deem him OK to do that without tearing those stitches out."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Ian Krol reflects on MLB experience in 2021