Niyo: Opportunity knocks for Tigers’ Faedo after long, painful wait

Detroit News

Detroit — You can’t finish what you don’t start.

So on a day that started with a win for the Tigers, the loss to cap a getaway-day doubleheader with the Pirates at Comerica Park left a bitter taste as the team boarded a flight to Houston on Wednesday night.

Yet the start that Alex Faedo made here – four years, 10 months and 23 days after the Tigers selected him in the first round of the 2017 MLB draft – was worth savoring, even if it ended officially in a no-decision for the 26-year-old rookie right-hander and a 7-2 loss for the home team.

And the fact that Faedo also was boarding that flight for Houston – talk about packing a lot into one day – well, that meant more than even he could explain after making his major-league debut.

As Tigers manager A.J. Hinch noted afterward, “Every step along the way for Alex is gonna be important.” But this one was huge, for so many reasons.

Unexpected, too. Less than 24 hours earlier, Faedo was preparing to start a game for the Mud Hens in Toledo against the Worcester Red Sox. Actually, he was preparing for a rainout Tuesday night – much like the Tigers were here in Detroit – when he was called into manager Lloyd McClendon’s office with the news he was being called up to the majors. He would be the Tigers’ starter Wednesday as the extra “27th man” on the roster for the doubleheader.

“I wasn’t really expecting anything like that,” Faedo said Wednesday, smiling as he recounted the whirlwind of emotions. “So it was a complete surprise. But I was happy it happened.”

MORE: Faedo hangs tough in debut, Tigers settle for doubleheader split against Pirates

His parents were startled to get the call, too, and Faedo’s family scrambled to get to Detroit in time for Wednesday’s second game, which started shortly after 4:30 p.m. Faedo’s parents, Landy and Kristie, his two brothers, an uncle, and Faedo’s fiancée, Kelsey Barrett, all made it and were in the stands behind home plate Wednesday.

“It was awesome,” Faedo said. “They’ve gone through so much with me. … I was just happy I was able to get through five innings and put a smile on their faces.”

He wore one, too, not surprisingly. Not simply because he’d lasted five innings, either, allowing eight hits, a walk and two earned runs while throwing 76 pitches – 53 for strikes – along the way.

It’s because he’d made it to this “moment,” as he called it Wednesday, referencing the winding journey that brought him from a standout college career at Florida — and that weighty status as a highly-touted prospect — all the way through a series of setbacks to that mound Wednesday afternoon.

Top pitching prospects

Faedo, the MVP of the College World Series back in 2017, struggled in his first season as a pro the next year and his stock fell as a prospect. But he rebounded with a solid season at Double-A Erie in 2019 and seemed to be back on a similar track with the Tigers’ other top pitching prospects.

Yet then came a pandemic that wiped out the 2020 minor-league season. And the arm discomfort Faedo felt at the alternate training site in Toledo later that summer ultimately led to Tommy John surgery that winter.

A year of rehab followed, then a three-month MLB lockout after that. So when Faedo finally took the mound again to start a game this spring, more than two years after his last Grapefruit League outing, he understandably described it as “almost like a euphoric feeling.”

Wednesday was something else altogether, though. Tuesday night had been bad enough, just trying to fall asleep. But sitting through the first game of the doubleheader was excruciating, even as the Tigers rallied for a 3-2 victory.

“The first game went pretty quick, but for me, it felt like it was taking forever,” Faedo said. “I wanted to get out there.”

The nerves were evident in the bullpen – “Had a few hiccups,” Faedo laughed – but pitching coach Chris Fetter calmed him down, he said.

“And from then on,” Faedo shrugged, “I felt pretty confident.”

He pitched like it, for the most part, pounding the strike zone with fastballs as he typically does and pitching in and out of trouble with some help from the Tigers’ defense behind him. They turned a pair of double plays and made some diving grabs to keep the damage to a minimum in the early innings.

Faedo recorded his first strikeout against the Pirates’ Roberto Perez, getting him swinging on one of his plus sliders to end the top of the second inning. Catcher Eric Haase retrieved the ball and handed it to the rookie as they walked off the field to the dugout. Later, Perez provided another first for Faedo, drilling a 2-1 fastball some 418 feet into the bleachers in left field for a solo home run.

Lesson learned?

“Hitters up here are obviously gonna do more damage when you miss over the middle of the plate,” Faedo said, nodding.

‘Proud of him’

Still, Hinch said, “I was proud of him. I thought he threw the ball effectively. I know he gave up a few hits, but he hung in there, gave us a chance to win.”

Hinch admitted before Wednesday’s doubleheader he wasn’t sure how Faedo would react to all the emotions at play here.

“I’ve seen him in a spring training game and been around him in the clubhouse,” Hinch said. “I know he’s confident, I know there are a lot of people in the organization that are happy for him. He’s got some competitive fire.”

And a “presence,” according to both McClendon, the manager at Triple-A Toledo, and Doug Bochtler, the Mud Hens’ pitching coach. Faedo pitched five innings of shutout ball for Toledo in Omaha last week, after a few rehab starts in Lakeland, and that was the quick scouting report Hinch got this week as he started mapping out his pitching rotation plans. The Tigers, already missing two starters in Casey Mize and Matt Manning, won’t have another scheduled off day for two weeks and are slated to play 28 games in 27 days the rest of this month.

Fortunately, though, Hinch has options at Triple-A to fill in some of those gaps. And those options mean chances for some of those prospects “to come up and pitch well and make a statement on being part of the summer plans” in Detroit, Hinch added.

And when asked if he’d made enough of a statement to earn another start next week, when the Tigers are scheduled for another doubleheader against Oakland, it sure sounded like it.

“He certainly did his part to make him a viable candidate,” Hinch said, adding that Faedo was headed to Houston as part of the team’s taxi squad Wednesday night.

Or to put it another way?

“Opportunity knocks,” Hinch said, “probably when you least expect it.”

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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