The former standout pitcher at Walton High School, and then collegiately at North Carolina, had his contract purchased Thursday from the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo, Ohio.
A spot in the Detroit bullpen opened up when the club optioned reliever Thad Weber back to Toledo. A position on the Tigers’ 40-man roster was created by Al Albuquerque’s placement on the 60-day disabled list.
Putkonen was with the major-league team for Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners, but he did not see any game action. Tonight, Detroit will be on the road, leaving Putkonen with the opportunity to make his major-league debut in one of the most hallowed of venues — New York’s Yankee Stadium.
Putkonen, a 26-year-old right-hander, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 10 strikeouts over 13 innings with the Mud Hens this year. A third-round draft pick of the Tigers’ in 2007, he was initially groomed as a starter — 82 of his 93 appearances through the 2011 season were starts — but his six appearances this year were all in relief.
“He’s thrown the ball very well for us at Triple-A,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said of Putkonen to the Detroit News. “But we were also in a spot where Weber was not available to pitch for us (Thursday) and Putkonen could (if needed).”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland also appeared impressed with Putkonen’s potential.
“He made a good impression on us (in spring training),” Leyland told the News. “Power arm, power stuff. Nobody knows how they’re going to react when they get up here, but he’s done well in Toledo.”
Putkonen’s strong start to the 2012 season was a distinct improvement from a rocky 2011. In 29 appearances between the Tigers’ advanced Single-A and Double-A affiliates, he went 3-13 with a 6.44 ERA.
Before entering the professional ranks, Putkonen was a standout pitcher at North Carolina, helping the Tar Heels to a pair of College World Series appearances before being drafted as a junior.
He graduated from Walton in 2004 and was part of a pitching staff that year that posted a 0.81 ERA and won the Region 5AAAAA championship.
“I texted him this afternoon and wished him good luck,” Walton coach Shane Amos said Thursday on learning of Putkonen’s call-up. “I told him we were proud of him down here.”
Putkonen is the fourth major leaguer — all pitchers — to come out of the Walton baseball program.
Blaine Boyer played parts of seven seasons with four teams from 2005-11. He started his career with the Braves before moving on to the St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets. He’s currently a free agent.
Scott MacRae spent part of 2001 season as a reliever with the Cincinnati Reds. Marc Pisciotta, leader of the East Marietta Little League team that won the 1983 Little League World Series, pitched from 1997-99 for the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals.