What Alex Lange is working on to become weapon in Detroit Tigers’ 2022 bullpen

Detroit Free Press

ST. LOUIS — Detroit Tigers reliever Alex Lange is a key part of the future.

That’s the first thing manager AJ Hinch said when he shared what the organization thinks of Lange, who has been shuffled four times between the Tigers and Triple-A Toledo. Hinch then discussed opportunities, as he so often does with his unestablished big leaguers.

“We’re going to give him an opportunity,” Hinch said Wednesday. “He can make an impression in the opportunities that he’s given. Look, he’s got really good stuff. He broke through in the spring. He opened a lot of eyes. Coming into this season, we didn’t really have any expectations. We wanted to give him an opportunity, putting him on the 40-man (roster) and things like that. When he’s gotten some opportunities, he has been better than his numbers indicate.

“But each time he’s been sent down, he’s been told why.”

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So what does Lange think about all this?

“Focus where your feet are,” Lange said Tuesday. “I found that to be the most beneficial way to get through it. Obviously, the first one is always tough. But it’s part of the game. I wasn’t performing the way I should have been. Rightfully so, I got optioned. You go down there, get your work in and continue to get better.”

Lange, 25, was acquired by the Tigers from the Chicago Cubs in the 2019 Nick Castellanos trade. He made his MLB debut in April, logging 19 innings across 21 games this season. He has a 6.16 ERA, 11 walks, 21 strikeouts and five home runs allowed.

The right-hander was sent down May 17 to make room for Wilson Ramos’ return from an injury. Lange came back June 10, only to land on the injured list five days later with a right shoulder strain. Once he achieved full health, he was optioned to Toledo on July 7. Lange then returned to the Tigers on July 17. He went back down July 21 and returned again Aug. 22.

“He needs to be more pitch efficient,” Hinch said. “He needs to be inside the strike zone and challenge contact.”

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Following his latest return, Lange has posted a pair of consecutive scoreless sixth innings Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays and Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was perfect with 10 pitches (seven strikes) to keep the Blue Jays from scoring.

Facing the Cardinals, he escaped a jam created by a walk and a hit batter with 19 pitches (10 strikes).

When Lange is at his best, his 97 mph fastball and devastating curveball show he could become the team’s most dynamic reliever, especially when he tunnels those pitches to make them look similar out of his hand. But when he loses command and strays from the strike zone, he finds trouble.

“The role to be determined in the future could be anything,” Hinch said. “He can really impact a bullpen and his status in that bullpen by how he commands a baseball when he’s in the strike zone with the ability to spin the ball like he does.

“I could see him in leverage. I could see him late in games. He has endurance, so I could see him as a multiple-inning reliever. Right now, he’s trying to make an impression so that we go into the offseason with him in the plans.”

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But Lange doesn’t like thinking too far ahead.

He has work to do.

“Trusting that your stuff is good enough is super important,” Lange said. “Trusting that your ability is going to be there, and not trying harder than you have to. You always want to try your best, but don’t try to do something you’re not capable of doing. Trying to put a little more on the heater, it’s going to leak middle and not be executed, or you’re going to hang the breaking ball versus getting all the way through it.

“Just pitch like you have your whole life. It’s very difficult. Once you accept where you are, focus and go have fun, it’s the same game I’ve been playing my whole life. I think that’s what a lot of guys struggle with when they first get up.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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