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Tigers claim RHP Braden Bristo; move Austin Meadows to 60-day IL

Bristo racks up the strikeouts but needs much better command to be more than Triple-A depth.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Tigers have made a couple moves on their Monday off day as they prepare to welcome in the New York Mets on Tuesday. This afternoon, the club signed left-hander Sam Clay to a minor league deal. The bigger news dropped later in the day as they claimed right-handed reliever Braden Bristo off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays. To open a 40-man roster spot for Bristo, outfielder Austin Meadows was transferred to the 60-day injured list.

The 28-year-old Bristo came up in the New York Yankees organization. He always posted good strikeout rates, but has never been able to get his command to the point it needs to be to pitch in the majors. He throws a cutter averaging 88 mph as his most used offering, with a sinker/slider combo slightly less often deployed.

The Rays picked up Bristo this offseason and he made his major league debut with them on April 13, tossing three innings of no-hit ball with a walk and four strikeouts against the Boston Red Sox. He was promptly returned to Triple-A where he was shelled in his next two outings. The Tigers have already optioned him to Toledo, so this is another project with a talented but wayward arm they want to work with. Obviously the Rays saw something in him too, but the Rays’ 40-man roster is a lot deeper than Detroit’s.

Tigers new assistant pitching coach Robin Lund has a bit of a reputation for teaching the cutter, so perhaps trying to refine that pitch is part of the attraction. Bristo has the stuff to get outs in the bigs, but at 28 years old, the odds that he’ll get his command issues sorted out aren’t good. The Tigers seem likely to start re-shuffling their bullpen in May, with right-handed reliever Matt Wisler pretty likely to get a look in the majors this month. Bristo adds another arm for the Mud Hens with enough stuff to pitch in the majors if they can get him turned around.

And unfortunately, it appears that attempts to get Austin Meadows’ anxiety issues under control haven’t worked out to date. It’s hard to say much about this other than that it’s really unfortunate to see a talented and still young player struggling with such a mercurial problem. We’ll hope for the best for him, but the move to the 60-day feels like an acknowledgement that there isn’t any progress on that front.

Clay is a 29-year-old journeyman southpaw reliever who came up in the Minnesota Twins system. He has a good sinker that he deploys pretty heavily, but the walks have limited him to just 50 13 major league innings, mostly back in 2021 with the Washington Nationals. Clay gets a fair amount of strikeouts and doesn’t give up many home runs, but unless they can significantly improve the command of pitcher closing in on 30 who hasn’t figured it out yet, he’s not going to be a factor at the major league level either.

Editor’s Note: After this article ran, the Tigers reportedly also signed former Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays reliever, Heath Hembree to a minor league contract as well. It’s been several years since the 34-year-old right-hander was effective with any consistency. The strikeouts continue to pile up, but so do the walks and home runs. An extreme fly ball pitcher who has tended to throw his slider almost 75 percent of the time in recent years, he might be an interesting fit in Comerica if they can keep him out of the middle of the plate. Still, probably just minor league depth with some potential.