Detroit Tigers left-hander Joey Wentz learned Sunday — with his parents, Dave and Jenny, in the manager’s office — that he would make his MLB debut on Wednesday at Comerica Park.
The Mother’s Day surprise was delivered by Triple-A Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon.
“It’s the highest level in the game, so you think about that,” Wentz said Tuesday. “I’ve played baseball since I was 6, 7 years old, and we used to go to a bunch of MLB games. To be on the field will be pretty special.”
The key for Wentz to be successful isn’t a secret.
He needs to throw strikes.
“In the strike zone, his stuff plays at every level against any lineup,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s got a really dynamic fastball. I have not seen his cutter, other than on video.”
The cutter is a new addition to Wentz’s arsenal. He implemented the pitch for the first time in his latest start May 4, when he fired four innings of two-run ball with one walk and eight strikeouts.
Wentz began developing the cutter with Triple-A Toledo pitching coach Doug Bochtler after his April 28 start. His arsenal features a four-seam fastball that sits around 93-95 mph, plus a changeup, curveball and now a cutter.
“Last start, I thought all my pitches were pretty good,” Wentz said. “I was throwing four-seam, changeup, curveball, kind of added a cutter. I’m excited about that. … We talked about adding another breaking pitch that I’m going to throw for strikes. … I think it can be a big weapon for me.”
The 24-year-old, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2020, posted a 4.12 ERA with 10 walks and 26 strikeouts over 19⅔ innings in five starts for the Mud Hens this season.
He is the Tigers’ No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
At the Triple-A level, Wentz had a 33.8% strikeout rate, 13% walk rate and 58.3% strike rate. To be pleased with his debut, the 6-foot-5 lefty must attack the strike zone. If he doesn’t, his new cutter — and the rest of his offerings — could falter against the Athletics.
“Definitely Strike 1,” Wentz said. “You hear guys talk about being ahead in the count, and I think that could potentially be the biggest thing. Outside of that, just trying to control the emotions and treat it as another baseball game. I’ve played a lot of them. Obviously, it has a different feel, but just try to stay within myself and pitch ahead.”
A.J. Hinch likes ‘the human element’
Hinch and shortstop Javier Báez were ejected in the ninth inning Monday for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Nick Mahrley. Despite Hinch’s frustration with Mahrley, he doesn’t support an automated strike zone.
The automated strike zone has been tested in 2022 in the Florida State League, where the Tigers have one minor-league affiliate: Low-A Lakeland. It’s unclear if the automated system will eventually be implemented in the big leagues.
“I actually still really like the human element,” Hinch said. “If we go to the automated ball-strike, we’re going to have complaints with that, too. We’re humans. I think guys have bad nights. I voiced what I thought last night on how I thought it went. I don’t know that overcorrecting it to a computer system that’s going to have its flaws would make it feel any better.”
The long ball
Through 28 games, the Tigers are worst in baseball with 11 home runs.
Five players on this year’s roster hit at least 20 homers last season: Báez (31), Austin Meadows (27), Robbie Grossman (23), Jonathan Schoop (22) and Eric Haase (22).
Those five players have four homers total, with Meadows and Grossman still searching for their first homers this season. Rookie Spencer Torkelson leads the Tigers with three homers in 2022.
“I don’t know that we’re necessarily trying to hit homers as much as we’re trying to get pitches that we can get in the air,” Hinch said. “The power, the homers, those are byproducts of a good approach, making solid contact and getting the ball up in the air out of the infield.”
The Tigers have a .087 isolated power percentage. That’s also the worst mark in baseball.
“We’ve been talking about this for a while,” Hinch said. “We’re not selling out for homers. We’re trying to have productive at-bats. That doesn’t always include the ultimate result of a homer.”