The Detroit Tigers were already wrestling with how to manage their starting rotation without injured frontline starters Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull. The problem swelled in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, as Jose Urena exited with a right groin strain.
Urena’s timetable to return from the injured list remains unclear.
Meanwhile, 24-year-old rookie Casey Mize is facing innings restrictions. The other 24-year-old rookie, Tarik Skubal, is expected to have his innings slashed soon. And 23-year-old rookie Matt Manning, scheduled to return from Triple-A Toledo for the upcoming series with the Texas Rangers, is still learning how to handle the big leagues.
Entering Sunday, the Tigers’ starting rotation is Mize, Skubal, Manning, Wily Peralta and Tyler Alexander. (Alexander will start Thursday against the Rangers and is in the process of building up his pitch count to handle the new workload.)
“It’s going to put a strain on our bullpen and some of our arms,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Sunday. “We may have to send some guys up and down in the shuttle system to try to keep our bullpen fresh.”
But couldn’t Mize just pitch beyond three or four innings?
The Tigers (42-51) are winning games, carrying a 33-27 record since May 8. Considering the schedule for the remainder of July, the time is now for the Tigers to climb the standings — both in the American League Central and in the push to join the wild-card conversation.
Increasing Mize’s innings would help keep the bullpen arms fresh, stabilize the rotation and win games. But the short-term rewards don’t outweigh the long-term risks, and they wouldn’t help Mize’s pursuit of pitching a full season, so don’t expect the former No. 1 overall pick to pitch deep into the game when he starts Monday against Rangers ace Kyle Gibson.
“The injuries have nothing to do with it,” Hinch said. “Our handling of our young pitching is going to be done with what we think is in the best interest of each young pitcher. It doesn’t make any sense to me to respond to anything else that’s going on while we’re trying to develop a player-plan for very important players this year and into the future with our pitching.”
Hinch explained the Tigers’ plan.
“Our timeline with Casey is going to be another start or two where we gently ease him back into the workload,” Hinch said. “We want to make good decisions along the way that’s in the best interest of the player and the organization.”
Through 17 starts, Mize has a 5-5 record, 3.59 ERA, 27 walks and 77 strikeouts over 95⅓ innings. He pitched three innings July 2 against the Chicago White Sox — when his innings restrictions began — and four innings July 7 against the Rangers.
Mize allowed four runs across seven innings in his pair of shortened outings.
“It was expected for him,” Hinch said. “We may even have to do it again, as unpopular as it may be. We’re trying to make really good decisions, but I appreciate him being on board and understand that we’re doing it for all the right reasons. … I know he wants to pitch. He’s going to get to pitch, but this is the best way to get to the finish line.
“We’ll see the same thing with Tarik. We’re hopeful to not have to do that with Matt because of the way we started his season (in Triple A). Time will tell how the next couple months go, whether it’s Casey or others who haven’t pitched the length of the season that they’re going to be asked to pitch.”
Peralta is ‘godsend’ for Tigers
As injuries to the starting rotation have piled up, Peralta continues to impress.
The 32-year-old has a 2.08 ERA, seven walks and 16 strikeouts over 26 innings. He signed a minor-league contract with the Tigers in February, and the initial idea was to use him as a spot starter or as an extended reliever.
But Peralta, a nine-year MLB veteran, has become an asset.
“He was pretty adamant when he signed with us that he wanted an opportunity to start,” Hinch said. “You can see him taking advantage of that. The pounding of the strike zone is very key. He has been able to maintain his velocity in a good area that makes the opposition respect it. He’s got some secondary pitches, some moxie and some feel for how to move the ball around and keep the ball on the ground. I think that’s really important for him.
“He’s answered the challenge of getting us into that fifth and sixth inning and giving us a chance to win. He’s been a godsend for us over the last month, when our rotation has been on fumes and continues to get hit by injuries while trying to protect some of the young starters. Wily’s been very durable and very good.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.