The big left-hander, currently at Double-A Erie, fell to 0-7 on Thursday, giving up three runs on six hits over 3 2/3 innings against Harrisburg. But like so many of his outings, Thursday was a tale of the inconsistency that often comes with a first season back from elbow surgery. He gave up all three runs on five hits and two walks within his first 11 batters, then got into a groove late. In the end, his limit of around 75 pitches kept him from salvaging a better start.
The past month for Wentz has been up and down. Two of his last five starts have been scoreless outings over four-plus innings, and he has racked up at least five strikeouts each time out over that stretch. But like so many in his first year back from surgery, his command has wavered. Often, it reflects in walks — 17 over 19 innings in his last nine starts, and 32 walks over 48 2/3 innings for his Double-A season. Sometimes, it reflects in the hit column, including three home runs in four innings last week against Akron.
“He’s just been very erratic,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “When you look at the box scores and some of the video, and you talk to our Minor League people, they’ll tell you that he shows flashes of command/control and then he can be a little erratic. That eats into the pitch count a little bit, and you tend to be a little conservative if he’s spraying the ball and having some taxing innings that are high pitch-count innings.”
That pitch count could stretch a bit as the Minor League season winds down. But while the Tigers hadn’t closed the door on Wentz potentially reaching the Major Leagues while he was rehabbing in Spring Training, he’s expected to finish out the season on the farm.
“We’re still monitoring him in the quality that he’s bringing,” Hinch said, “but we’ve got to get him inside the strike zone and being more consistent for him to even get up to Toledo, let alone to the big leagues.”
That said, the stronger Wentz finishes, the better his chances to enter the mix to help the Tigers next season, maybe sooner than later. He could work himself into the same position where fellow prospect Matt Manning was going into this season.
While Wentz continues to anchor Erie’s rotation, the SeaWolves lost their primary catcher on Friday, placing Dillon Dingler on the seven-day injured list with a fractured index finger on his left hand.
Dingler, ranked as Detroit’s No. 4 prospect, is batting .201 for the SeaWolves this season after a hot start, with three home runs and 17 RBIs. He has made up for his offensive growing pains with strong defense behind the plate. Ironically, he was injured when he was crossed up on a pitch earlier in the week during the team’s series in Harrisburg, Pa.