Detroit Tigers may have another rookie to watch as surprising start continues

Detroit Free Press

Hey, come here, kid.

Derek Holland wanted to talk to Alex Lange on Saturday night in the Detroit Tigers‘ bullpen at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

“He called me over and sat me down in the first inning and was just kind of going over some things to do,” Lange said.

Lange, a 25-year-old right-handed reliever, was getting ready to make his Major League debut. And Holland, a 13-year veteran, was giving him some important advice.

“He said, ‘Go out out there and take it all in; don’t don’t try to hide from it,’” Lange said.

[ What we learned from the Tigers’ dominant sweep over top-tier Astros ]

Embrace the emotion.

Because Lange feeds on it.

Lange is an intense, high-energy relief pitcher blessed with a nasty curve and a 97 mph fastball. When he did get in the game, it looked like his heart was going to pound out of his chest. But he controlled his nerves while facing the heart of Cleveland’s order. He threw 16 pitches, 11 of them for strikes, getting two ground balls and striking out Franmil Reyes, who had hit two home runs on Friday.

It was a perfect start.

“The emotions were there but I utilized those emotions and just relaxed and just kind of embraced them,” said Lange, who came to the Tigers in the 2019 Nicholas Castellanos trade with the Cubs.

Then came Wednesday night.

In just his second game, Lange entered a cauldron of pressure. The Tigers held a 6-3 lead over the Houston Astros — a game that manager AJ Hinch wanted to win desperately, in part, because it would give the Tigers a sweep.

But also because, well, it was against Hinch’s old team.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Lange’s road to Tigers paved by baseball bloodlines, incredible adoptive mother

Why would the manager turn to a rookie in a moment like that?

“He’s got some of the best stuff,” Hinch said. “He’s got stuff to pitch with leverage. So it was a good test for him.”

Lange passed with ease. He threw 11 pitches — all but two of them for strikes — while striking out two and got out of the inning without allowing a run.

“He showed up and and threw some nasty stuff,” Hinch said, after the Tigers completed the sweep.

At a time when some Tigers relievers have struggled — Jose Cisnero has given up five runs in 5⅓ innings and Daniel Norris put the first three batters he faced on base on Thursday — Lange has the stuff to get more opportunities in critical moments.

“He probably earned himself another leverage situation here pretty soon,” Hinch said.

‘A reliever mentality’

Lange’s debut is even more impressive considering he jumped to the big leagues without playing Triple-A. But he did experience the Tigers alternate site at Toledo last summer and he pitched in five games in spring training, learning the importance of throwing strikes.

“The difference between guys who have played in the big leagues for a long time and the guys that are still coming up is the knowledge of the strike zone … they don’t chase much,” Lange said. “That’s the biggest thing that I kind of took away from spring training. Guys are selective.”

So what is to come for Lange?

He has the potential to take an even greater role in the bullpen.

“He can pitch his way into any number of roles on our team,” Hinch said. “Command and control are going to be key. Being able to attack the strike zone early is important to all pitchers but especially somebody with this kind of stuff …

“He does have a reliever mentality. He gets hot pretty quickly. Gets intense and tries to attack hitters. If he can harness that in the strike zone, he’s very effective and gets guys to chase. If he doesn’t, then he can be a little bit erratic. And I think that’s the learning curve of being a big league reliever.”

And a child shall lead them

So that’s two.

Just 12 games into this season, the Tigers have two rookies who have made impressive Major League debuts.

Akil Baddoo has had an unbelievable start. He went 5-for-11 with two homers, two doubles and four RBIs against Houston.

And Lange has looked impressive in two appearances.

Matt Manning is on the horizon — he should arrive later this summer. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see Zack Short pop up to the big leagues in a utility role. Short, who the Tigers acquired from the Chicago Cubs at the 2020 trade deadline for outfielder Cameron Maybin, is a fun player to watch. He’s an old-school dirtball who can play all over the infield. And teams need all kinds of pieces in the long term.

As these rookies arrive, the Tigers have a mix of veterans, such as Holland, who can guide them.

And they have developed a welcoming vibe in the clubhouse.

“It’s a really cool feeling to know that all these guys are pulling for you and on your side,” Lange said. ”It’s a long year and to know you got guys in there that are gonna go in the trenches and battle for you and pull for you, I like this team. We have some good chemistry here and I think there’s good things to come.”

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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