Tigers prospect Alex Faedo says arm ‘feels great’ after tough-luck, shortened 2020 season

Detroit News

Lynn Henning
| The Detroit News

Finally, last week, he got home. To his place in Tampa. And all after some tough months in Detroit and Toledo.

This week, it’s back to Lakeland, Florida, for Tigers instructional camp and for another shot at joining, maybe by next season, a Tigers rotation that for three years has been itching to add Alex Faedo.

His miserable 2020 has been just that: Faedo, a 6-foot-5, right-handed starter who was the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2017 out of the University of Florida, got COVID-19 as he traveled north to join the Tigers summer camp at Comerica Park. He was tucked 20 days into a hotel, lost 16 pounds, and when he got to the taxi-squad venue in August at Toledo, he soon strained his right forearm and was shut down.

He’ll begin throwing this week when 50 Tigers prospects convene at TigerTown. He figures better days are due.

“My arm feels great,” he said Friday during a phone chat with The Detroit News. “I’ve thrown a couple of times (since the shutdown), but it’s been kind of a weird offseason for me. I’ll ratchet it back up when Instructs begin (Thursday).”

Knocked off track

Had a pandemic’s bug not grabbed him, Faedo might have joined two more Tigers kid pitchers, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, in that shuttle from Toledo to the Tigers’ big-league roster in Detroit.

A pitcher of his vintage — in six weeks he turns 25 — and with the polish he had shown even during his college days at Gainesville, was on target in 2020 for brushing-up time at Triple A Toledo and a later call from the Tigers.

But he threw only a few bullpen sessions in Toledo and had a short stint in a single live batting practice at Fifth Third Field when his right forearm flared up. A wide range of opinions and tests determined nothing substantively was wrong.

“It was more that my body wasn’t ready to hang onto that load,” Faedo said. “There was a lot of inflammation and fatigue, pretty much because I’d been throwing way less than I’m used to. There was nothing structural. My arm wasn’t ready to bounce back after losing all that weight.”

Faedo as well as the Tigers figured he was being broken in gently following his coronavirus confinement. Quarantine, he said, was more about boredom than about any real physical misery.

He lost his sense of smell for three weeks but otherwise had no ugly effects from a bug that has knocked the world all but flat in 2020. But because he was so out-of-routine, he lost those 16 pounds, nine pounds of which was determined to have been muscle.

This put the brakes on what a year ago looked like a pitcher on Comerica Park’s doorstep.

Faedo threw 115⅓ innings at Double-A Erie. He had a 3.90 ERA and clean 1.12 WHIP. Pitching half the time in a hitter’s haven at UPMC Park, Faedo was getting nicked for scarcely more than one home run per nine innings, while striking out 10.5 per nine against two walks.

Good numbers. Numbers in line with his other work during two seasons on the Tigers farm.

Faedo was throwing his four-seam fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, and irritating batters with a slider that has become his trademark, all while crafting a change-up that he throws comfortably as part of a straight, three-pitch inventory.

“Very solid year in Erie,” said Dave Littlefield, who oversees Tigers player development, mentioning that Faedo allowed fewer hits (104) than his innings total, and noting the strikeout-to-walk ratio that says so very much about a pitcher’s control and pitch quality.

Littlefield’s summary includes notes customary for pitchers closing in on the big leagues: refinement against better hitters is part of the process, along with — we’ve heard this before — an emphasis on command and consistency.

All of which figured to take a step up in 2020. Until, that is, a plague showed up.

Faedo is banking on a smooth five weeks at instructional camp before heading back to Tampa for some late-season Gators football and a tuneup ahead of what all of baseball hopes is a more conventional February-March spring training. Then, if the COVID wars allow, he should be back at Erie or even Toledo for some pre-Detroit grooming.

That all counts on health. And pitching maturation. Because it’s all but guaranteed the Tigers will need his help in 2021.

Destined for Detroit?

It’s a bit later than was anticipated when Faedo was snatched by the Tigers with the 18th overall pick in 2017, just as he was helping Florida win that month’s College World Series.

He already had been drafted once by Detroit, in the 40th round as he departed Braulio Alonso High in Tampa. The Gators and their scholarship offer won then, but the Tigers had been on his trail for too long, liking his size and mechanics, and the way in which he could turn good hitters to statues with his slider. Always, fastball mastery was the set-up there.

They wrote him a check for $3.5 million that kept him from his senior year at Florida. He was a Tigers employee who looked as if he could — that word again — make it to Detroit as early as 2019. It didn’t happen, but the timeline for a young starter was still in place. Until, anyway, spring camp dissolved in March and players headed for home, not knowing when, or if, baseball would become reality in 2020.

Faedo understands what most minor-leaguers, even those who found a taxi-squad seat, have processed about 2020: It has essentially been a lost year. Yes, there has been time to work out, and maybe bat or pitch against good competition in sequestered settings. But a year without five months of games, a season minus fuller weeks of spring camp, is a baseball year that has been impossibly compromised.

“I didn’t pitch in any games, so it’s a little hard to compare my quarantined bullpens against my season games from last year,” Faedo said, talking about any distinctions he might have noticed in his 2020 development. “I thought I was in a really good place when spring training 2.0 (July’s pre-season tuneup in Detroit ahead of a 60-game MLB schedule) started.

“I’d been able to lift and throw after everything was shut down in March. My stuff was good.”

There has been conjecture, here and there, that Faedo might be looking at future work in Detroit’s bullpen. But the Tigers say no such plans are afoot, and Faedo wonders if any such thought is more a product of social-media gab.

His size as well as his years already racked up as a starter, at Florida and on the Tigers farm, suggest he’s there with Mize or with another farmhand drawing close to Comerica Park — Matt Manning — as a right-hander ripe next year for joining Tarik Skubal and a greenhorn cast that by 2022 could be four-fifths of a fresh rotation in Detroit.

“I figure that’s what they drafted me for,” Faedo said of his starter status, “but when it comes down to it, I’ll do anything I can do to be the best pitcher I can.”

His fastball is fine: still low to mid-90s, and a four-seamer all the way. Faedo doesn’t mess with a sinking two-seamer, nor does he have quite the zip he needs for a cutter. That leaves his swerving slider as a relative out-pitch and his change-up as one more trusted choice from a minimalist repertoire.

He acknowledges that down the road a curve might be added. But there’s no hurry there, he said. Three pitches that can get batters out, three pitchers that are comfortable — melded with a standard season in which he can put some gloss on those pitches — should move him closer to a big-league town that’s been waiting three years for Faedo.

His time in Tampa has been a mixed bag, even before he headed in July for Detroit and for what became, mostly, a hotel-room lockdown. When he’s in Tampa, Faedo works out at Diesel Fitness. He throws at another Tampa outlet: KineticPro Performance, which he describes as a “pitching lab.”

Getting that weight and muscle back to pre-COVID levels doesn’t preclude an occasional 18 holes. Faedo isn’t sure what he weighs today. Officially, he comes in at 225. But that was before those 16 pounds melted away during July and August.

“Realistically,” he said, “I just want to get heavier.”

And healthy. And back to work.

A team from Detroit has a clubhouse locker waiting.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sport reporter.

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