Cleveland — Is it an important start for right-hander Jose Urena on Tuesday? Of course it is. For the Tigers, for sure. For him, as well, for his own peace of mind.
But is it a make-or-break start in terms of keeping his spot in the Tigers’ rotation?
It is not.
“As far as the rotation spot, he’s going to start tomorrow, and he’s going to start again either this weekend or in Texas next week and then he’s going to get one more start in Minnesota before the All-Star break,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game Monday.
Over his last four starts since coming off the injured list (forearm cramp), Urena is averaging just over three innings and has been tagged for 24 runs (21 earned). Opponents are hitting .366 against him, slugging .648 with a 1.106 OPS.
But with Matthew Boyd (elbow) and Spencer Turnbull (forearm) on the injured list until after the break, and the Tigers leaning on three rookies and essentially a bullpen spot to fill out the rotation, this is not the time to bail on Urena.
“We’re trying to get to the All-Star break before we make any declarations or any sort of adjustments,” Hinch said. “I want him to be better for him, and I want him to be better for us. He’s got to be better than what he’s been.”
Hinch said pitching coach Chris Fetter has been encouraged by adjustments Urena has made between starts.
“He’s got to be more vertical,” Hinch said. “He’s got to get the ball down when he wants, and if he’s going to elevate, elevate means getting the ball above the area the hitter hits. It’s not a secret. He’s a sinkerball pitcher. When he gets the ball on the ground, usually good things happen.
“But he need stay over the plate up and down and not be so east-west where he’s yanking balls off the plate and misfiring. He’s always going to work down in the zone. He’s that type of pitcher. But he’s got to be able to pound it up conviction.”
Boyd and infielder Niko Goodrum played catch before the game, which is more significant than it sounds.
“That’s the first time they’ve done any work on the field,” Hinch said.
For Boyd, out with discomfort in the elbow area, it was the start of a long process of building his arm back up. Best-case scenario would be he can make some rehab starts before or during the All-Star break and be ready to go when the season resumes.
Goodrum, who has a tendon injury on his left index finger, is still trying to strengthen his grip in that hand to the point where he can first grip a bat and then start taking swings.
There was encouraging news on right-hander Michael Fulmer, who went on the injured list Sunday with a cervical spine strain.
“He’s with us on this trip and then he’ll get further tests later this week,” Hinch said. “Right now it’s just the neck. It’s muscular. It’s not the shoulder, which is a good sign. We had him tested with our doctors.”
Fulmer was on the injured list earlier this season with a shoulder strain.
“We have to see what he can tolerate and handle moving forward,” Hinch said. “The good news is the tests came back (showing) a solid shoulder. You always worry that the neck area moves into the trapezius and is that a precursor to a shoulder injury.
“But right now it’s pretty isolated in the neck area.”
Can’t play everyone
Left-handed hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara was not in the starting lineup Monday against soft-tossing Indians right-handed starter Eli Morgan. But the way things have been going with both Mazara and the Tigers outfield, that wasn’t much of a surprise.
Mazara has started just 14 of the 25 games this month.
“He’s running into a little bit of a logjam,” Hinch said. “(Akil) Baddoo is playing incredibly well, Daz Cameron has shown some great flashes and Robbie Grossman is our everyday outfielder.”
Hinch did acknowledge Mazara is showing signs of coming to life at the plate. He’s hit .290 (9 for 31) in his last nine games with .765 OPS. But he’s gone 41 plate appearances without a home run.
“To me, it’s not that difficult,” Hinch said. “It’s competition. I do think (Mazara) has it in him to bust out and be pretty good. We’re facing a lot of right-handed pitching this week, and he’s going to start tomorrow if he doesn’t pinch-hit tonight.
“It’s tough when you aren’t penciled in there every single day. But you better make the most of it when you can.”
Tigers at Indians
► First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Progressive Field, Cleveland
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► RHP Jose Urena (2-8, 6.00), Tigers: This is an important start for Urena. His last four since coming off the injured list (forearm cramp) have been brutal — 0-4, 21 earned runs in 14.2 innings, opponents hitting .366, slugging .648 with a 1.106 OPS.
► RHP J.C. Mejia (1-2, 4.94), Indians: This will be his sixth start since transitioning out of the bullpen and he’s coming off his best start to date, holding the Twins to a run in six innings. He’s primarily a sinker-slider guy, throwing changeups to lefties. Opponents are just 1 for 14 with eight strikeouts against his slider, with a 37% whiff rate.