No limits: Why AJ Hinch wants Tigers pitchers in full compete mode, right from the start

Detroit News

Chris McCosky | The Detroit News

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Lakeland, Fla. — For an essentially unanswerable question, Tigers manager AJ Hinch has certainly spent a lot of time this offseason trying to answer it.

The question is how to handle workloads for pitchers, coming off a 2020 season where no Tigers pitcher exceeded 60 innings, the majority threw less than 30, and some didn’t pitch at all. Hinch has said all options are on the table — from using a six-man rotation at times, to using the full 40-man roster and rotating fresh arms into the mix from Triple-A, to being creative with how they ration innings across the board.

But as pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Wednesday, Hinch has seemingly changed his approach. It’s almost like he’s decided to take off the kid gloves.

Asked about it by former big-league pitcher an MLB Network analyst Al Leiter on Tuesday, Hinch said there was a thin line between awareness and over analysis when it comes to pitchers and their workloads.

“I know this about players and about pitchers,” Hinch said. “You monitor them and you’re smart it, but you can’t put a governor on them and have them get through six months of a season.”

Hinch said pitchers will be monitored individually. Measurables such as velocity, pitch shape, command, potential indicators of fatigue, will be watched over and chronicled throughout the season by trainers, doctors, sports science experts. The pitchers’ health is paramount.

More: ‘Head on straight’: Lefty Ian Krol ready to restart his career with Tigers

But Hinch just doesn’t want his players coming into camp thinking in terms of limitations and restrictions.

“All of a sudden we’re talking about August and September and whether we can get through a season,” he said. “That’s not how you compete at this level. There is a mentality to instill. Just give us what you’ve got. We’re prepared to have a number of pitchers pitch for us.

“But don’t cloud the players with that mindset of, ‘We’ve got to be careful.’ That’s not how you compete at this level. We’ll cover it along the way. We’ll have check points at every month, or we’ll look at it at the All-Star break. But don’t compete with an 80% mentality. That’s not going to work.”

Here’s a breakdown of the pitching staff on the eve of report day.

More: New-look Tigers’ lineup has more bite against right-handed pitching

Starting pitching

Veritable locks: Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Michael Fulmer, Jose Urena.

In the hunt (for one or two spots depending on the size of the rotation): Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander.

Prospects: Matt Manning, Franklin Perez, Alex Faedo (injured), Joey Wentz (injured).

Non-roster invitees: Erasmo Ramirez, Andrew Moore.

Outlook: The Tigers may still add another veteran starter to this mix. The goal is to go at least 10 pitchers deep between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo, and it’s a pretty good bet between Norris and Alexander, one or both will end up back in the bullpen. Although the goal is to carry the best five or six best pitchers, common sense dictates that prospects Mize, Skubal and Manning aren’t likely to pitch more than 100 innings this year. The Tigers could decide to rotate those three separately through the big-league rotation.

Bullpen

Veritable locks: Bryan Garcia, Buck Farmer, Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez, Jose Cisnero.

In the hunt: Kyle Funkhouser, Rony Garcia, Beau Burrows, Alex Lange and non-roster invitees Derek Holland, Ian Krol, Drew Carlton and Nolan Blackwood.

Other non-roster invitees: Zack Hess, Gerson Moreno, Ethan DeCaster, Jason Foley, Wladimir Pinto, David McKay, Miguel Del Pozo and Robbie Ross.

Outlook: So much hinges on where lefties Norris and Alexander end up, even if, as expected, the Tigers’ carry eight relievers. Soto is the only lefty lock in the bullpen. If Norris or Alexander land in the rotation — not likely both — it would presumably open a window for Holland or Krol. Although Bryan Garcia finished the season in the closer’s role, Hinch wasn’t ready to hand out any such designations pre-camp, if at all. He’s not married to the idea of naming a full-time, nine-inning closer.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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