CLEARWATER, Fla. — Detroit Tigers left-hander Tyler Alexander didn’t come to spring training expecting make to the Opening Day roster. The new face of the organization — manager AJ Hinch — has no loyalties.
With two years of MLB experience, the 26-year-old is determined to get to Comerica Park. But Alexander understands he must earn his spot with two methodical techniques: pitch-to-contact and overwhelming the strike zone.
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“I had to show my value as a pitcher,” Alexander said Sunday. “Obviously, I don’t throw hard. We have a lot of hard throwers, a lot of impressive arms. I had to prove I could get outs just as effectively as those guys.”
The speed of Alexander’s fastball is nothing to boast about. It sits around 89-91 mph. Meanwhile, fellow left-hander Gregory Soto can pump his fastball at 101 mph and possesses closer potential. Lefty Derek Holland, who is trying to swipe a roster opening as a non-roster invitee, is hitting 95 mph with a surplus of strikeouts.
Depending on how the roster shakes out, Hinch and general manager Al Avila and might have to choose between Holland and Alexander. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to pick the player with the hardest fastball.
Alexander’s forte is his command.
During Saturday’s outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Alexander only needed 19 pitches to cruise through two innings. He gave up two hits, but the longest at-bat lasted a mere five pitches. He held the Pirates scoreless and generated one strikeout.
These situations are making Hinch’s job difficult.
“This is a compliment to him, but it’s been hard to get him enough work because he’s getting through his innings in seven, eight, nine pitches,” Hinch said Friday. “I mean, it’s the perfect pitch efficiency. He’s a Swiss Army knife type of pitcher, which is why we love him in that hybrid role.”
This spring, Alexander has logged nine innings across five games, with a 3.00 ERA and six strikeouts. However, the most important number is the walks: The left-hander has yet to allow one.
Across 14 games (two starts) and 36⅓ innings in 2020, Alexander picked up 34 strikeouts compared to nine walks. He set a major league reliever record with nine consecutive strikeouts.
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He struck out 47 batters and walked just seven through 53⅔ innings in 2019.
“I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble in the past with throwing too many strikes,” Alexander said. “There’s a big difference between throwing strikes and throwing quality strikes. I throw a lot of strikes. When I get into trouble is when I don’t throw quality strikes, heaters right down the middle. Sometimes I forget I just can’t throw everything down the middle.
“I’ve had to learn, and I’ve gotten better at it, that I can throw balls, and it’s OK to walk people in certain situations. It’s been a process.”
Alexander wants his development to occur in the majors, either as a starter or reliever. For now, the Tigers are more interested in him coming out of the bullpen because he can eat innings without exhausting his arm.
If the Tigers keep Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo, which seems likely, they’ll have less flexibility with the bench and pitching staff. It’s safe to assume Alexander had the inside track on one of the bullpen jobs entering camp because of his history with the organization.
Even as Holland, a 12-year MLB veteran, emerges as a strikeout-heavy option, and righty Michael Fulmer could get relegated to the bullpen, Alexander — a second-round pick in 2015 — will continue to focus on finesse over power.
And the left-hander is only getting wiser on the mound.
“I’ve gotten people out with 88 (mph) at every single level,” Alexander said earlier this spring. “I’ve been able to put the ball wherever I want at every single level. If you can hit your spot, wherever that may be, I think no matter what you throw, you’re in a good spot.”