Game 23 Preview: Alex Faedo’s long road finally leads to the show

Bless You Boys

You know the drill, the Tigers bats, rough start, blah, blah, blah, need a win. Enough. Let’s talk about the rookie on the mound in game two of Wednesday’s doubleheader with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mr. Alex Faedo.

Drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2017 draft, the 26-year-old was part of the “big four” promoted by the Tigers as the foundation of a future contender. Faedo had his own niche in the group. As the most gregarious of the bunch, Faedo handled a lot of the media attention toward them when Mize, Manning, Skubal, Faedo, and ultimately Joey Wentz formed one heck of a 2019 Erie SeaWolves’ rotation.

Despite typically ranking well below Mize, Manning, and Skubal in prospect rankings, Faedo was on a pretty nice path of development before his career was derailed. However, the last two seasons have not been kind to him, and there’s been a lot of work involved to finally get back to this point. The road has been pretty long, but when he toes the rubber at Comerica Park on Wednesday evening, he’ll be a big leaguer for life. Then the really hard part begins.

Background

After a pretty stirring performance for the Florida Gators in the 2017 College World series, which made his junior year much longer than normal, the Tigers’ development group decided to shut him down for the rest of the year. Coming off a heavy workload that began with surgery to both knees during the previous offseason, that made perfectly good sense. However that hands off approach seemed to carry over through the whole of the next offseason.

The Alex Faedo that returned for his pro debut in 2018 looked a bit diminished from his college days. His delivery still lacked athleticism, his velocity was down, and no real mechanical changes were in evidence, despite a few obvious issues to correct in his delivery. The result was a solid but uninspiring half season with the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers, followed by a disappointing Double-A debut with the Erie SeaWolves where his fastball was bombed on relentlessly through 60 innings, sending his prospect stock plummeting.

Faedo still possessed his best weapon, a plus mid-80’s slider, and strong strike throwing traits, but his delivery produced quite mediocre fastball movement, and his velocity was 90-92 much of the year. As a fly ball pitcher who recorded just 26.8 percent of balls in play on the ground, that was not a good combination. Faedo gave up a scary mark of 2.25 home runs per nine innings with the SeaWolves.

I wrote about Faedo’s mechanical issues when he returned for his second pro season in 2019. He’d rebuilt his delivery, eliminating the hunched over posture and cross-fire delivery that flattened his arm path, producing a tailing fastball without much ride or late life. He’d also gotten noticeably leaner and more explosive. He was still a bit of a short strider, but he was driving more online to the plate with better posture, a higher arm slot and better extension, and much improved life on the heater. The results showed, even if the velocity remained a little below average.

Here are two clips that should give you an idea of the before and after versions of Faedo’s delivery. The second is from a rehab outing with the Flying Tigers a few weeks back, in which his command was still a little shaky. You can see the differences even with a lousy camera angle.

Here’s an interview about his pitch grips from back in 2019, to give you an idea of the person.

Faedo was still a fly ball pitcher and somewhat prone to the long ball, but he’d trimmed the home run rate down to 1.33 per nine innings in 2019, boosted his strikeout rate substantially from 23.2 percent to 28.3 percent, and was commanding three pitches effectively, including a solid circle changeup. As always, he had that sharp slider and the ability to manipulate the shape and command it effectively to either side of the plate as his bread and butter, but the overall package was coming together pretty well for a backend starter or solid setup man profile.

The Tigers looked to be in business as Faedo made a nice Grapefruit League appearance in 2020. And that was the last we saw of him. After the shutdown, Faedo and Manning went to the alternate site in Toledo, expecting to follow Mize and Skubal to the majors at some point, but fate had other plans. Both went down with what were initially reported as forearm strains, and with nothing to play for, the Tigers took no chances, shutting them down for the year. Manning’s issues were apparently resolved without much trouble. As for Alex Faedo, the news, as far as pitching was concerned, was worse. He finally underwent Tommy John at the end of 2021 after rehabilitation failed to resolve the issue, and didn’t return to the mound until this spring, over two and a half years since he last took the ball in a regular season game.

Now, after three rehab appearances in Low-A Lakeland, and one strong outing for the Toledo Mud Hens, the time has finally come. Alex Faedo will become a major leaguer on Wednesday, and we couldn’t be happier to see it finally coming together for him.

Frankly, we haven’t gotten a real good look at what the rebuilt Alex Faedo has got in the tank. The fastball looked like it had good life in his Triple-A debut, but the velocity wasn’t popping in the mid-90’s either. As is typical with Tommy John returnees, it will probably take a little time to see if he’s got more velocity coming as he stretches out into full pro workload. However, the slider still looks good, and the circle change looks like a solid offspeed pitch for him as well.

Still decidedly a fly ball pitcher, a damp day in Comerica Park, against a mediocre young offense, albeit with a couple of dangerous hitters like Bryan Reynolds, Daniel Vogelbach, and Michael Chavis, makes for about as favorable a matchup as Faedo could ask for in his major league debut. If he commands his fastball well he should do okay. Presumably he’ll be asked to throw around 75 pitches and hopefully turn the game over to the pen in the fifth with a lead.

Detroit Tigers (7-14) at Pittsburgh Pirates (9-13)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Bucs Dugout
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alex Faedo (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs LHP Jose Quintana (0-1, 3.32 ERA)

Alex Faedo’s first major league opponent needs little introduction to Detroit Tigers fans. Southpaw Jose Quintana was the ice to Chris Sale’s fire in the Chicago White Sox starting rotation in the mid-2010’s, before he was ultimately dealt to the Chicago Cubs in the White Sox’s 2017 fire sale, landing them a pair of outstanding prospects in outfielder Eloy Jimenez and right-hander Dylan Cease. Fair to say their fire sale went just a wee bit better than the Tigers’ version the same year.

Quintana was never quite as good for the Cubs, but still put up several good years there before hitting free agency in 2021 and signing a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Unfortunately, shoulder issues limited him to just 63 innings in 2021, and his formerly good command was nowhere in sight. He racked up sky high walk and home run marks. Now 33 years old, and with his prime apparently well behind him, the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up on a cheap speculative deal for 2022, paying him two million, presumably with the hope of flipping him this summer and continuing the stockpiling of prospects underway on the Allegheny.

This isn’t quite the Jose Quintana you remember

Through four starts, the lefty has shown his typical low 90’s fourseamer, with the solid slider-changeup combination to boot. However his command still isn’t where it was in his heyday, and he doesn’t have the ability to dial up 93-94 mph whenever he wants a little extra as he once would. The slider is still pretty good, but the somewhat diminished fastball and fastball command have also taken a little shine off the once lethal changeup as well.

Quintana still has pretty good stuff, and if the Tigers aren’t disciplined he’ll bait them into traps all over the place. But he’ll make some mistakes too and there should be some hard contact from the offense. Hopefully they can cash in on some of their opportunities. This is still a more hittable pitcher compared to his prime form, and the lineup needs to give their rookie starter some cushion to work with in his debut.

Miguel Cabrera has a career 1.011 OPS against the veteran lefty, if you’re looking for a hot hand recommendation.

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