The Tigers walked into Kauffman Stadium on Friday with a two-game lead in the American League Central, despite claiming ownership to the league's worst bullpen. Their search for band-aids reached Joel Hanrahan, who on Thursday signed a one-year deal with the club worth a $1 million base salary with another potential $2 million in incentives.
The Royals were one of more than a dozen teams to attend Hanrahan's throwing session on April 17 in Tampa, Fla.
The two-time All-Star closer's 2013 season ended with Tommy John surgery. He is expected to be ready to return to a big-league mound before the All-Star break.
"There's still some bridges to be crossed," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "... He's been throwing quite a bit. I think he'll probably face hitters relatively soon. But we certainly don't' want to rush him back."
His return can't come soon enough for the Tigers, whose bullpen has posted a 5.37 earned run average this season, worst in the American League.
Hanrahan will join a semi-spring training program at the team's complex in Lakeland, Fla., Ausmus said. The Tigers are hopeful he can help shape a divisional race later this season. Hanrahan saved 76 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"I do know that he's battle-tested," Ausmus said. "So he's not going to be intimidated by any situation, which is very important, especially if you work you way into the pennant race in September."
Hanrahan was once viewed as a potential fix to Royals' early-season blunders, but the club's bullpen is slowly returning to form. Their relievers own a 3.69 ERA, fifth best in the American League, and have held opponents to a .221 batting average, which trails only Oakland.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are still searching for answers, primarily in the later innings, where Hanrahan brings plenty of experience.
"I'm definitely excited to be a part of the Tigers," Hanrahan told the team website. "At the beginning of (free agency), I had them pinpointed as a place I'd like to play."
Six relievers have made at least seven appearances out of the Tigers' bullpen, and all of them have an ERA of 3.86 or worse.