How Detroit Tigers’ AJ Hinch will approach his rotation and an innings limit in 2021

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch knows having a surplus of starting pitchers will be an added benefit in 2021, no matter how long season.

That’s because industry-wide innings limits are expected to counterbalance last year’s 60-game sprint.

Adding pitching depth is more important this offseason than ever before. Hinch isn’t sure how everything will unfold with his new roster, but he plans to take a vigilant approach.

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“We need to condition them to be able to pitch a full season,” Hinch said Thursday, “but we’ll be very cautious with what kind of jumps those guys are making coming off where they’ve been in previous years prior to 2020.

“But also factoring in the COVID year where every single pitcher across baseball is coming off a significantly less workload than they ever have before.”

Last season, two of Detroit’s top prospects, right-hander Casey Mize and lefty Tarik Skubal, made their big-league debuts in August. Right-hander Michael Fulmer, the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year, returned from Tommy John surgery and, even when he was efficient, wasn’t allowed to pitch beyond three innings.

Mize, Skubal and Fulmer are the three pitchers Hinch will be most careful with moving forward. The remainder of the rotation, for now, includes left-hander Matthew Boyd and righty Spencer Turnbull.

“To me, it’s very individualized,” Hinch said. “I don’t think you can have one specific criterion. Like, 20% (innings increase) might work for some, 30% might work for another, 10% might work for a third guy. We need to get to know and dig in on our guys and see.”

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A six-man rotation isn’t out of the equation, and the Tigers have reportedly targeted right-hander Taijuan Walker. He has eight years of MLB experience, most recently for the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, with a career 3.84 ERA in 108 games (105 starts).

Walker factors into another option, as well. The Tigers could sign several free agents, some on minor-league deals, to eat innings, help get the team through potential injuries and make spot starts.

“On average, these teams go through 10, 11, 12, sometimes 13, 14 starters (per) year on good teams, teams that are playoff-caliber teams or (have) strong rotations,” Hinch said. “I’ve been on teams that have had less than that, in the six, seven range.”

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Mize and Skubal threw 28⅓ and 32 innings, respectively, after coming up from the alternate training site in Toledo. Fulmer pitched 27⅔ innings in his 10 starts. Meanwhile, Boyd and Turnbull tossed 60⅓ and 56⅔ innings, respectively.

The Tigers got 19 innings across four starts from right-hander Ivan Nova, who was on a one-year contract, before he sustained a season-ending injury (right triceps tendinitis) in August.

“The bottom line is you never have five (starters) and they stay for the duration of the season,” Hinch said.

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There are two more pitching prospects to keep in mind for 2021: right-handers Matt Manning and Alex Faedo. Because the minors were canceled, they went to the alternate training site for the season.

Manning and Faedo were shut down in late August with forearm injuries. The injuries, however, weren’t significant, according to a handful of doctors they communicated with. They’re now completely healthy and will compete for rotation spots in spring training.

As with Mize and Skubal, the Tigers will need to closely monitor Manning and Faedo next season, be it in the minors or majors.

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“When it comes to this dilemma on innings, it’s industry-wide,” Hinch said. “There’s a lot of unknown. We have to be careful on a couple of fronts.

“Number one, we have young pitching that’s never been tested north of, call it, 125 innings. I’m talking about Mize and Skubal. You have Turnbull, who has done it before a little bit. You have Fulmer, who’s done it a done it a ton but is coming off Tommy John.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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