Lakeland, Fla. — Whatever you do, don’t tell Alex Lange he looks skinny.
“You think I look skinny!?” he said Wednesday morning, eyes wide. This was hours prior to him throwing a clean, 15-pitch inning in the Tigers’ 6-6 spring tie with the Pirates
“Skinny is not a good thing,” he said. “Athletic, that’s a good thing.”
Lean. Let’s call him lean. He’s at 10% body fat and his weight is down from 200 to 193. Lean. For the last couple of years, Lange has stayed on a stringent daily regimen of 220 grams of protein, 250 grams of carbs and 50 to 60 grams of fat.
“Just a lifestyle change,” he said.
“I don’t care what my weight is, as long as I’m feeling good and moving good and my body is recovering good,” said Lange, who could play a pivotal role in the Tigers’ bullpen this summer.
“That’s the biggest thing for me.”
He’s lean, and yet, in some regards, maybe not as mean. You might remember when Lange burst on the scene in spring training last year, he was a rip-snorting, fire-breathing presence on the mound. His intensity was both an asset and a liability.
“He pitches with a ton of adrenaline and emotion and I love that about him,” manager AJ Hinch said. “But it needs to be controlled aggression and channeled in the right area. I will never tell a player how to compete, but if he loses command because he’s losing his emotion, that’s a bad thing for him.”
That’s how it played out in the first part of last year. He got amped up and things would at times unravel on him. He’s worked on his mental approach as much as he’s worked on his fitness.
“It’s good, my mentals are good,” he said. “Just go out and execute. That’s all I worry about. I don’t care who is in the box. I don’t care what the situation is. I have to make the pitch. After that, it’s on to the next one. Just go out and execute and the results will take care of themselves.”
Not saying Lange has gone completely zen, but he was all-in after hearing newest Tiger Andrew Chafin’s introductory press conference. They don’t come much more low-key than Chafin.
“Listening to Chafin talk and he’s saying, ‘I just go out and do my thing and whatever happens happens,’” Lange said. “I can buy into that. It makes this a little easier because once you do deliver the pitch, everything is out of your control.”
Whether that kind of chill approach is in Lange’s DNA remains to be seen, but he’s working on it.
“Yeah working on it a lot the last 12 months, working with Juan (Nieves) and Fett (Chris Fetter) and Boch (Toledo pitching coach Doug Bochtler), just going out there relaxing and having fun,” Lange said. “We are playing a game. We have to remember that. That gets away from us sometimes.
“Pressure is internal. If you can get rid of that, everything will be cool.”
The fitness, the mindset and mound presence, those are intangibles. Lange’s tangibles are more clearly defined. Even at age 26 and only 35.2 big-league innings under his belt. His stuff plays. The upper-90s four-seamer, the high-spin breaking ball and vastly-improved change-up are legit. As he showed in the second half last season and again to the Pirates hitters he faced Wednesday.
From Aug. 22 on, Lange allowed just three runs in 18.2 mostly leverage innings. He struck out 18 and limited hitters to a .191 batting average.
“I worked on getting more ride on the heater, but I didn’t really make any crazy changes this offseason,” he said. “Honestly, just trying to condense what we did last year in the second half and continue to repeat stuff. Get ahead of the hitters and put guys away.”
Of the 59 hitters Lange got ahead of last year, either 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2, they went 9 for 57 with 20 strikeouts. The 54 hitters he got behind, conversely, went 12 for 36 with eight walks.
“The numbers don’t lie,” HInch said. “The damage gets limited in pitcher’s counts.”
With Kyle Funkhouser (lat strain) likely to start the season on the injured list, Lange could move into that middle-of-the-game bridge roll in Hinch’s winning bullpen, getting the ball to the likes of Michael Fulmer, Jose Cisnero, Chafin and closer Gregory Soto.
But, in true Chafin-esque style, when he was asked about where he fits into the bullpen design this season, Lange said, “However I can. If I go in and get holds, pitch when we’re behind, it doesn’t really matter. Whenever I get the ball, I’m just going to go out try to get however many outs AJ needs.
“I just want to be available as much as possible.”
Thus, the lean body. Thus, the quieter mind and calmer disposition.
“I really think this (bullpen) role fits my personality,” Lange said. “I like preparing every day. I like coming to the ballpark knowing I’m playing today. It’s awesome. It’s a challenge because your recovery doesn’t stop on the field, it’s an every day thing and that’s a challenge.
“And I like that challenge. You have to hold yourself accountable in every aspect of life to come here and be ready.”
Tigers Opening Day starter Eduardo Rodriguez is ready. Maybe too ready. He threw four strong innings against the Pirates, allowing only a wind-blown homer to left-handed hitting Hoy Park. He needed just 53 pitches (38 strikes). He had command of all five of his pitches, with his slider being especially effective. “That’s how I want to be in the season,” he said. “I like how everything was under control. I feel good.” He still has two more starts this spring.
… Chafin made his Tigers’ spring debut, walking one in a scoreless, 11-pitch inning.
… It was a rough first outing for Fulmer, who retired just one of the four batters he faced. His velocity was down on his fastball and he seemed to be fighting to find his rhythm. “The velo I couldn’t care less about at this point,” Hinch said. “I think just being out of sync, he needs to work on and get into games. … No concern. Just need to get him back on the mound in a couple of days.”
… Tigers shortstop prospect Ryan Kreidler hit a grand slam in a five-run seventh inning. The Tigers have hit four spring training grand slams going back to 2019 and Kreidler, who’s never hit one in the minor leagues, has two of them. He hit one last year, too. “Hopefully I can do it outside of spring training,” he said, laughing.
… Derek Hill also homered for the Tigers.
… Before the game, the Tigers welcomed Jerry Bartee and his family into the clubhouse. Jerry is the father of former Tigers’ player and coach Kimera Bartee, who died suddenly in December. “It was very important for our team, guys got to see him,” Hinch said. “It was a cool experience being able to hug him.”
… Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, the former Tiger, was Hinch’s first base coach in Houston. So you knew there were going to be shenanigans. There was. Hinch had a picture of Kelly crashing into the wall at Comerica Park watermarked on the lineup card that he presented to the Pirates before the game.