| Detroit Free Press
Alex Faedo throws a bullpen session at Detroit Tigers spring training
Alex Faedo throws a bullpen session at Detroit Tigers spring training in Lakeland, Fla. on Feb. 18, 2020.
Alex Faedo’s room on the third floor in MotorCity Casino Hotel reeked of dirty clothes, whatever food he could gather and complete isolation.
At least, that’s how he thinks it smelled.
The Detroit Tigers right-handed pitching prospect, ranked No. 10 in the organization by MLB Pipeline, wouldn’t know. He temporarily lost his sense of smell when he tested positive for COVID-19 in July, missed the team’s summer camp and spent 20 grueling days in quarantine.
“I was losing my mind,” Faedo told the Free Press on Saturday. “I got to do indoor workouts and stuff inside, had programs written for me. I even had the little sock drills where we have a ball in the sock, and I kept throwing.”
[ The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content. ]
At the time, his healthy teammates were gearing up for the 60-game sprint at Comerica Park. Right-hander Matt Manning, the team’s No. 3 prospect, rode with him from the airport to the ballpark for coronavirus testing before camp.
Manning tested negative, as did Faedo’s girlfriend and his parents back home in Tampa, Florida.
“Just an unlucky situation,” said Faedo, who lost nine pounds of muscle — 14 pounds total and was shut down by the Tigers in September with a forearm strain. Missing most of July, he didn’t get back into his normal routine until August at the alternate training site in Toledo with the reserve squad.
Faedo, 24, is now in Lakeland, Florida, home of the Tigers’ spring training facility, for instructional league camp. He isn’t on the official 49-player roster and won’t compete in games, but he is rehabbing his arm by throwing three times per week and lifting weights.
He said he has “a lot of expectations” entering the 2021 season. Faedo can’t predict the future, but after two minor-league seasons and a year at the alternate training site, he feels ready for his MLB debut.
“The goal is to get up there,” Faedo said. “At the same time, it’s not about how fast you get up there. It’s about being ready when you do. Hopefully, all this work that you put in will help you stick when you get there. You don’t want to go back and forth. I want to — no matter how long it takes — be able to say that I’m a valuable asset to the team.
“So, if it takes me a couple extra years or whatever to get up there, and I end up being better because of it, that’s fine to me. Damn, I want to play baseball as long as I can. I want to be playing forever.”
Chasing the majors
Drafted No. 18 overall by the Tigers in the 2017 draft, Faedo made 24 starts in 2018 between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. He posted a 4.02 ERA with 110 strikeouts and 35 walks in 121 innings. His slider and fastball weren’t as effective as they were during his three years at Florida.
He bounced back in the 2019 season at the Double-A level, firing 134 strikeouts with a 3.90 ERA in 115⅓ innings. He only walked 25 batters. His fastball returned to the mid-90s and his slider command improved.
The positive COVID-19 test, combined with the weight loss, made Faedo was nervous to throw again. His progression, however, was nearly instantaneous. Just two weeks after he was released from his smelly hotel room, the ball was coming out of Faedo’s hand better than ever before, Manning said.
Yet the likelihood of Faedo’s ascension to the majors next season is unclear.
The pandemic has created uncertainties about the majors and minors; this year, the minor-league season was canceled. And pitchers — prospects and veterans alike — could be on an innings limit to avoid risking injury after not throwing as much in 2020.
Faedo isn’t too sure what the organization has planned for him.
“It all depends on where I’m at,” Faedo said. “If I’m in the minor leagues the entire year, I think there probably will be some type of limit. But I feel like you can’t baby me too much. I am getting older. I’ve got to throw innings to develop, I got to get later in the games and work in those high-leverage situations.
“But if I find a way to scratch the big-league team at some point next year, it’s one of those things. If we’re winning, and we’re playing good, I think that you’re playing to win.”
Watching, learning, waiting
Two fellow pieces of the Tigers’ future rotation, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, climbed to the majors in 2020. Mize, the team’s No. 2 prospect and No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 draft, made seven starts. Skubal, ranked No. 5, appeared in eight games with seven starts.
Each time one of them pitched, Faedo made sure he found a TV to watch. It would have been easy for him to get jealous; pitching in the majors is his dream, too. But he wasn’t frustrated. They deserved it.
“I was told that in pro ball, everything is really selfish, but that’s not how this organization is,” Faedo said. “We’re turning in the right direction with that team attitude, trying to win games. We’d all sit around, every single night. It was awesome to watch them throw.”
Faedo didn’t talk to Mize and Skubal much after they departed from the alternate training site in August to catch the Tigers’ plane to Chicago for a series against the White Sox. He knew they would have jitters and didn’t want to overwhelm them.
He often banters about SEC football with Mize, who went to Auburn, and plays Call of Duty with Skubal. They share and compare pitching notes, but Faedo doesn’t expect them to unlock any newfound secrets to pitching at baseball’s highest level.
He must figure that out on his own.
Faedo didn’t think it was necessary to ask Mize and Skubal questions about the majors, but he saw everything: the composure, the glimpses of greatness and the struggles.
Mize finished with a 6.99 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 13 walks in 28⅓ innings. Skubal found a bit more success with his upper-90s fastball, pitching to and had a 5.63 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 11 walks in 32 innings.
“I really hope I can help out with them in the rotation one day up there,” Faedo said. “Hopefully, we can all learn together and get better together because I think we do a really good job working together and attacking hitters. We do a good job of seeing the game the right way.”
It won’t be too long before the three of them — four including Manning — are together again in the same rotation, like Double-A in 2019. Mize and Skubal should make the team’s Opening Day roster out of spring training, but Faedo and Manning may require further growth in the minors.
That’s OK because Faedo wants the timing of his arrival to be just right.
“I think everyone would be kind of pissed off if this guy’s a rookie and he can’t even throw and is getting babied, stuff like that,” Faedo said. “I definitely don’t want that to happen. Hopefully, I can get up there and force that issue at some point. The biggest thing is, they’ve got to trust me. I have to have success.”