LAKELAND, Fla. — Tyler Alexander isn’t used to being the teacher’s pet. He certainly isn’t used to being considered the model pitcher with a fastball that averages just over 90 mph. So when new Tigers manager A.J. Hinch called him out in a meeting last week, it caught him by surprise.
Hinch, like his predecessor Ron Gardenhire, uses morning meetings in Spring Training to not only introduce himself to players, but build team camaraderie. He saw a chance to use Alexander’s nine consecutive strikeouts as an introduction and a teaching moment.
Batter by batter, strike by strike, Hinch broke down Alexander’s record-setting performance from Aug. 2, 2020, for the rest of the team to see.
“What we were talking about [that] morning was just the value of pitching ahead,” Hinch said. “If you look at what this group did — and not to a man, but for the majority of our team — when you get 0-1 on the first pitch as opposed to 1-0, it’s a big difference, certainly in on-base and the result of the at-bat. And so, when I was researching and looking it up, I wanted to share it with the team. I also wanted to make Tyler feel pretty good that he punched out nine — almost punched out 10 if he wouldn’t have hit [Mike] Moustakas with two strikes.”
As Hinch pointed out, Alexander got ahead of five of the nine batters he struck out.
“As soon as he mentioned it, I kind of had an idea of where he was going with it,” Alexander said. “It was cool. I’m a pretty quiet guy, so I didn’t necessarily love all the attention, but it was cool for him to acknowledge something that I did.”
At least Alexander — a pitcher whose arsenal doesn’t necessarily stand out — has the manager’s attention. He’ll have a chance to build on that when he starts the Tigers’ Grapefruit League opener Sunday against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Alexander’s nine consecutive strikeouts set a Major League record for a reliever. He’s now among several pitchers in Tigers camp competing for a rotation spot. Detroit’s splurge of veteran signings, most recently Julio Teheran, likely leave Alexander on the outside of the chase. But with Hinch placing a value on relievers who can fill multiple innings, Alexander can still do a world of good for his future this spring.
While Hinch is getting to know Alexander, Alexander did some advance work to get ready for Hinch and the ensuing emphasis on pitch metrics. If Alexander was going to get a crash course, he wanted to know what the metrics said about him.
“With [pitching coach] Chris [Fetter] coming in and Hinch coming in and everybody talking about how we wanted to take the next step analytically, I wanted to understand where I stand in all that,” Alexander said.
What he found was that the same arsenal that confounded Reds hitters had the same effect on Statcast.
“After spending some time this offseason learning my analytics, I found that my four-seam [fastball] sometimes registers as a two-seam, the two-seam sometimes registers as a four-seam, my cutter sometimes is a slider, my slider is almost always a curveball,” Alexander said. “I don’t necessarily hate it. I like the movement of it all as long as they all play off of each other, as long as my slider looks like a cutter until a certain point, and as long as my fastball feels good.”
Thus, even though Statcast listed Alexander with six pitches in his repertoire, he really has five. But if he can confuse cameras and computers that much, he should like his chances against humans.
Tork working in drills at first
The Tigers have listed Spencer Torkelson as a third baseman ever since selecting him with the top pick of last year’s MLB Draft, and they have worked him out as such. Thus, the sight of the former Arizona State first baseman taking ground balls and throws at first base in drills in two of the past three days was noteworthy.
Still — for now at least — it doesn’t mean Torkelson is moving back across the infield. The Tigers and coach Chip Hale have used a plethora of players at first base in drills the past few days, including Niko Goodrum and Harold Castro, so Torkelson makes the list.
“We had almost everybody at camp working out at first base [Thursday],” said Hinch, only slightly exaggerating. “So that should tell you exactly my thought process on making everybody an option.”
The timing also makes sense. The Tigers are missing Renato Núñez from camp due to travel and visa issues. Torkelson isn’t throwing while his right index finger heals from his can-opening mishap, so he might as well work at a position where he doesn’t have to throw much.
Fulmer returns home for baby
Michael Fulmer has been scratched from his scheduled start Monday against the Yankees. He returned home to Oklahoma to be with his wife, Kelsey, for the birth of their second child.
Fulmer is expected to return early next week, but he’ll have to go through intake testing again before he can rejoin workouts and games. Still, Hinch said Fulmer will get his full slate of starts before Spring Training ends.