A weekend series against the White Sox confirmed for the Tigers what has been generally understood for some time:
They were going to run out of pitchers at various times in 2021, even before injuries and upset stomachs made the numbers game even more problematic. The Tigers used six pitchers, all of them relievers, in Sunday’s loss to the White Sox. They used seven “pitchers” — two of them position players — during Saturday’s atrocity that saw Chicago win, 15-2.
The issue mostly can be traced, not only for the Tigers but for just about every MLB team, to the past year’s COVID disruptions.
Pitchers didn’t get enough work in 2021. There were only 60 regular-season MLB games played. And none in the minors. Arms that needed to be stretched, sturdied, and in the case of young pitchers, exposed to more innings than the year before, instead regressed because of a pandemic’s layoff.
The Tigers now are staring down the gun barrel of a schedule at a point where they must be careful with the innings load carried by two of their young hotshots, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Jake Rogers and Harold Castro, who were shoved into emergency duty Saturday, might want to toss an occasional bullpen as MLB’s and the Tigers’ 2021 realities collide.
But there is, to some degree of proficiency, back-up help being groomed at Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie.
Expect to see a few, if not all of these rotation replacements, summoned by the Tigers in coming weeks and months:
► Angel De Jesus, 24, Toledo, right-handed starter, 6-foot-4, 200 pounds: He has an interesting number going for him, interesting as in stunning: De Jesus has not allowed a single run in 13 games, pitching for both Erie and Toledo. He has tossed 18⅓ innings, has been nicked for eight hits, has struck out 25 batters and walked six.
Cumulatively, hitters are batting .127 against him.
“Always been a real intriguing guy,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers’ chief of player development. “Kind of a lanky kid who’s always had a good arm. Has some deception, a fluid, easy arm motion.”
His fastball runs 92-95. In four games spanning five innings with the Mud Hens, De Jesus has rationed two hits while striking out seven and walking one.
Expect him to get a hurry-up notice from the Tigers at some point, perhaps soon, in 2021.
► Miguel Del Pozo, 28, Toledo, left-handed reliever, 6-1, 218: He has had a taste of the big leagues with the Pirates and was signed early this year on the recommendation of Brayan Pena, the West Michigan manager and former Tigers catcher who managed Winter Ball last season in the Dominican Republic, where Del Pozo was also employed.
He since has thrown in a dozen games for the Mud Hens, and thrown well: 1.32 ERA and 0.51 WHIP in 12 games and 13⅔ innings. The salient numbers: four hits, 17 strikeouts, three walks.
His fastball has picked up steam in recent months and Del Pozo is a name with which to become familiar. When the Tigers are looking for help on all fronts, especially with “bullpen games” becoming more frequent, Del Pozo is all but buttoning his Tigers jersey.
► Elvin Rodriguez, 23, Erie, right-handed starter, 6-3, 160: Rodriguez has an improved curveball, which is a good reason why he has been handling Double-A batters. His fastball doesn’t cruise much past 93, but in five games and 22⅓ innings at Erie, Rodriguez has been lashed for only 10 hits against 25 strikeouts and, yes, nine walks, which means his control and command can yet use some sprucing up.
Rodriguez has been on paternity leave and is just returning. At the very least, a move to Toledo is on his horizon.
► Wily Peralta, 32, Toledo, right-handed starter, 6-1, 255: He was signed precisely for reasons now coming into focus at Comerica Park. Peralta is a starting pitcher, with experience, as his 211 games with the Brewers, Rockies, and Royals attest.
This year he has been handling Triple-A personnel rather nicely: six games, 2.75 ERA, 1.17 WHIP.
He has had a groin issue, as well as a finger blister, which likely is the only reason he hasn’t yet been ordered to Detroit. Expect that call to come, and soon.
► Joey Wentz, 23, Lakeland, left-handed starter, 6-5, 220: Wentz is limbering up a left arm that for the past year has been healing from Tommy John surgery. Soon, he will be headed for Erie, where he worked with deftness in late 2019, before his elbow needed retooling.
Wentz is now making rehab starts and Friday was a bit more like it, in terms of blowing out carbon that’s accrued during his 14 months of recovery: Wentz was roughed up, but he struck out seven and walked one in four innings, albeit against Low-A hitters.
He likely won’t see Detroit in 2021. But his repertoire is big-league and it was on its way to delivering him to the majors before the elbow gave way.
He will be one to track during the second half at Erie. By next year, it’s a safe bet he’ll be pitching in Detroit, where, as 2021 again is proving, legit arms are not only needed, they’re too often necessitated.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.