Tigers’ Kyle Funkhouser a mixed bag; Spencer Torkelson could play Tuesday

Detroit News

Chris McCosky
 
| The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Manager AJ Hinch didn’t exactly pull punches when he was asked about where right-hander Kyle Funkhouser stood in the Tigers’ pitching plans.

“He is in that gray area right now in between Triple A and the big leagues,” Hinch said last week. “He got a little taste (of the big leagues last season), but there’s been too many walks.”

As if on cue, Funkhouser painted the same picture in his first outing of the spring Monday in Tampa in the Tigers’ 5-4 Grapefruit League loss to the New York Yankees. He walked two in a 28-pitch first inning, but he also showcased his nasty power sinker (93 mph), which he used to freeze and strike out Jay Bruce on a 3-2 pitch.

“I know it sounds simple, but you just can’t throw the ball down the middle to all hitters,” Hinch said. “His stuff plays inside the strike zone, as well, but free passes have hurt. He got away with it a little bit last year, but he also got burned a little.

“With that kind of arm, that kind of stuff, control is critical to him in making that leap from that gray area to actually being on the team.”

Funkhouser, making a fill-in start for Michael Fulmer who is on paternity leave, walked 11 hitters in 17.1 innings for the Tigers last season. He has worked on his mechanics, with his entire body connectivity, with new pitching coach Chris Fetter.

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“It seems pretty simple, but I felt myself last year just getting too excited and I’d rush my mechanics,” Funkhouser said after his outing Monday. “With the new staff, we got right to work with Fetter and Juan (Nieves), a lot of new drill work. Just always trying to get better.”

The coaches have been trying to get Funkhouser to stay on his back leg a little longer before pushing toward the plate. That stability in his load helps get his front side stronger and makes the delivery more repeatable.

“It’s been better through camp,” he said. “Today I was a little rushed, a little excited — all of the above. But when it came down to it, I made a big pitch in a big situation.”

Funkhouser will likely begin the year in Toledo. What is unknown, though, is whether the Tigers will stretch him out for longer relief work or possibility spot starts.

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Torkelson back

It’s been a tough start for Spencer Torkelson, the first overall pick in last year’s draft. Not only did he cut his finger trying to open a can with a wine cork opener — a cut that required three stitches and cost him three days of work last week and a start Sunday. But then during base running drills Friday, he got tripped up by the turf monster between first and second, taking a hard and embarrassing tumble.

But he has taken a worse beating in Hinch’s daily meetings.

“I like to poke fun at the young guys and loosen the mood,” Hinch said. “Tork has, unfortunately, been on the receiving end. … Veteran players love to hear stories about the young players and I am happy to loosen the mood.”

The stitches are out and Torkelson took full batting practice Monday. Hinch said he will try to get him some playing time Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, but the game will only be five innings (per the Pirates request), so it might be difficult.

More: Tigers welcome return of fans in spring-training rout of Phillies

Game bits

►Tigers starting catcher Wilson Ramos mashed a 418-foot home to dead center off Jhoulys Chacin, one of his two hits in the game.

►The Tigers’ top outfield prospect, Riley Greene, had a single, walk and a stolen base in his first start of the spring. Niko Goodrum, getting the start at shortstop, had two hits.

►Hinch issued a big challenge to reliever Beau Burrows. After Gregory Soto struggled — giving up a home run over the batter’s eye in center to Gary Sanchez — Hinch brought in Burrows with the bases loaded and two outs. Burrows responded, getting Kyle Higashioka to ground out. Burrows then pitched a clean fourth inning.

►Pitching prospect Zack Hess has had better days. Not only did his second pitch sail to the backstop, he walked two, hit another, and gave up a game-flipping grand slam to first baseman Chris Gittens in the fifth inning.

►Mini-camper Jason Foley showed why he’s been ascending quickly in the Tigers’ system. The right-hander threw a clean, eight-pitch sixth inning, with his fastball ringing 98-99 mph.

►Catcher Dillon Dingler, the Tigers’ second-round pick last year, doubled in his first spring at-bat. 

►Hinch has never been a big fan of the sacrifice bunt. His teams in Houston dropped 11, 14 and 10 sac bunts from 2017 through 2019. So it was a little odd to see Jake Rogers square around twice with runners at first and third in the third inning. Turns out, only one was called. The other was a cross-up in the signs. “He’s a guy that’s need to be a little bit of a versatile offensive player for us,” Hinch said. Rogers ended up striking out in the at-bat. 

Around the horn

►Hinch said right-fielder Nomar Mazara is in Lakeland, but he is still quarantined and waiting for the results of his COVID-19 intake tests. He said he hopes to get Mazara in camp by mid-week.

Jonathan Schoop, Victor Reyes and Wily Peralta are still not in camp.

►Third baseman Isaac Paredes took live batting practice in Lakeland on Monday and is expected to see his first game action Wednesday at Joker Marchant Stadium.

►Miguel Cabrera, who has played seven innings of simulated games the last two days, will make his first start Wednesday, as well.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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