Tigers general manager Al Avila has said it: Detroit needs more pitching.
Tigers manager A.J. Hinch is not going to say that.
There’s a reason for that: Hinch wants to make it clear that he believes in the pitchers they have. That’s part of his job.
“Obviously as a manager, you want as many options as possible and as much competition as possible,” Hinch said Friday morning. “Inside that clubhouse and inside this building, I want these players to know we have enough. We have enough quality. We have enough quantity. It’s out of their control whether we add players or not, but I’m not going to look my players in the face or be quoted saying we need more pitching. That’s not showing confidence in the group that we have.”
The Tigers have agreed to terms with Wily Peralta on a Minor League contract with an invite to Major League Spring Training, though the deal hasn’t been officially announced. They’ve shown interest in a reunion with free-agent starter and their former top pick Rick Porcello, sources have told MLB.com. With the offense addressed, the front-office priority is making sure the team has enough pitching to handle the innings of a 162-game season without overtaxing or risking injury to pitchers who were limited to a 58-game season last year.
At the same time, the Tigers boast three young starting pitchers among the top 25 prospects in the game, according to MLB Pipeline. They have a budding young starter in Spencer Turnbull, a former Rookie of the Year and All-Star in Michael Fulmer, a former All-Star candidate in Matthew Boyd and a versatile pitcher in Daniel Norris.
Hinch’s job is to get the most out of that talent. He acknowledged that it’s a balancing act.
“If we think there are guys out there that fit what we’re doing and deserve an opportunity and we want to pay them, that’s fine. We’ll make the adjustment,” Hinch said. “But, showing up to work every day, I’m not looking at what we don’t have. I’m looking at what we do have and the quality associated with it. And we’ve got guys that can do a good job.”
Porcello, ironically, was on the other side of a similar situation 12 years ago. The Tigers entered 2009 with a rotation in flux following Kenny Rogers’ retirement, injuries to Jeremy Bonderman and the struggles of Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis. Detroit traded for Edwin Jackson and made some low-risk additions, but then-manager Jim Leyland put a 20-year-old Porcello in his rotation to start the season with no time above Class A ball. Leyland told then-GM Dave Dombrowski that he was clearly one of the five best starters they had, so much so that it would hurt their credibility not to give him an opportunity.
Porcello started 31 games that year, won 14, pitched 170 2/3 innings with 3.96 ERA, finished third in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting and started the division tiebreaker game, giving Detroit a chance in a game that went into extra innings before losing to Minnesota. It wasn’t an easy spot for Leyland, who also ended up giving a chance at closer that year to a hard-throwing but mercurial reliever named Fernando Rodney.
Wentz gets back on mound
Speaking of motivation, Hinch spent part of his Friday morning giving lefty Joey Wentz some encouragement in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, reminding him that he’s not a forgotten prospect in the Tigers’ pitching wave.
“I keep telling him, ‘Eventually, we’ve got to stop talking about just [Matt] Manning, [Casey] Mize and [Tarik] Skubal in whatever order,” Hinch said. “’Eventually, we’d like to add a name to that. And once you’re healthy, you’re going to be very much a part of this, this young pitching core that we’re developing.’”
Wentz, the Tigers’ No. 9 prospect on last year’s MLB Pipeline list, got on a mound and threw on Friday for the first time since his surgery last March. He was simply playing catch, but it was a big step at this stage for the 23-year-old.
Aside from throwing, Wentz was been a full participant in workouts so far.
“He’s bouncing around,” Hinch said. “He’s so happy to be on a team again and feel like a player and not a patient. … I’ve never seen a pitcher happier to do [pitchers’ fielding practice] in the first couple days of camp than a rehabbing pitcher like Joey Wentz.”
Avila expressed hope earlier this week that Wentz will pitch at some point this season, though not necessarily in the Majors. He last pitched in 2019 as part of a super-rotation with Mize, Manning and Skubal at Double-A Erie following his trade from the Braves for Shane Greene.
Tigers sell out Spring Training tickets
The Tigers needed just three hours to sell out their limited allotment of tickets for Spring Training games, the team announced Thursday night.
The Tigers are welcoming fans to Grapefruit League games this spring at about 20 percent of the normal capacity at Joker Marchant Stadium. That works out to about 2,000 fans per game. Fans will be seated in “pods” of one to six seats, each pod with aisle access, with pods at least six feet apart for social distancing. The left-field berm will be marked off in six-by-six foot squares, each seating up to four fans.
The Tigers already had a strong amount of interest in Spring Training season tickets, reflecting a strong fan base in Lakeland, Fla. Add in a regionalized Grapefruit League schedule this spring that included a heavy amount of games against the Yankees, Phillies and Blue Jays — all of whom traditionally draw a lot of fans in Spring Training — and Detroit didn’t hurt for fan interest.