How the Detroit Tigers plan to use starter Jose Urena to finish 2020 season

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers right-hander Jose Urena returned from a right groin strain that sent him the injured list and started Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite one of his best performances, Tigers manager AJ Hinch only allowed him to complete three innings.

Don’t expect that to change.

“Now he can finish strong as we use him roughly every three or four days for two, three and four innings,” Hinch said before Sunday’s 2-1 loss in the series finale at Comerica Park. “That’s probably our plan. He may get a couple starts, too.

“His changeup and slider are still a huge key. He’s a heavy fastball guy, but when he can execute his secondary pitches, he changes the entire comfort level of the at-bat.”

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Urena tossed two innings and made 30 pitches in his final rehab assignment start for Triple-A Toledo. Bringing the 29-year-old back to the big leagues Saturday meant keeping his workload limited. If the Tigers decided to extend Urena back to 90-100 pitches, he would need at least a couple starts in September to prepare his body.

At that point, the Tigers would be nearing the conclusion of their season.

“The end of the season is close,” Urena said Sunday. “If we try to push it getting me ready to throw five, six innings, that would take a long time.”

Urena fired three scoreless innings Saturday, allowing three hits — without a walk — and striking out two batters. He excelled by using his four-seam fastball up in the strike zone, which helped his two-seam fastball down in the zone generate groundouts. He also executed his changeup and slider.

He threw 32 of 49 pitches for strikes.

“That was the best I’ve ever seen him, period,” catcher Eric Haase said.

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This season, Urena has posted a 5.96 ERA, 37 walks and 54 strikeouts over 83 innings in 18 starts. The Tigers signed him to a one-year, $3.25 million contact in December. He previously pitched for the Miami Marlins from 2015-20 and found himself as the closer at the end of the 2019 season, after returning from an injury.

“You talk about lack of comfortable at-bat, Jose Urena is the definition of that,” Hinch said. “You get one look at a guy, or maybe half the order gets two looks at him. In general, that’s to your advantage. Factor in Urena and his effective wildness and the ball that moves and three pitches. It’s all advantage Jose.”

Sending Urena to the bullpen for the final month of the season is also a product of the Tigers having too many starting pitchers: Urena, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Matthew Boyd, Wily Peralta and Tyler Alexander.

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When the Tigers travel to Cincinnati for a three-game series with the Reds (Friday-Sunday), Alexander — who came out of the bullpen Saturday — is scheduled to start one of the games. The combination of Alexander and Urena offers completely different looks to opposing teams: Alexander is a left-hander with finesse, while Urena is a hard-throwing righty.

So this time, Urena is expected to follow Alexander as a reliever.

“I don’t care,” Urena said about the new role. “I just care about getting ready, because I know what I can do.”

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

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