How do Tigers alter rotation with Mize out?

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Hours after the Tigers announced that Casey Mize will have Tommy John surgery, the Blue Jays added insult to injury. Still, while Friday’s 10-1 Detroit defeat at Comerica Park hurt, it doesn’t affect the team’s plans as much as Mize does.

The news of Mize’s surgery hit the Tigers hard. They expected that he could be out for most of this season, given the stops and starts to his rehab. But exam results showing his ulnar collateral ligament intact gave team officials confidence that he could avoid surgery. Not until his visit this week with Dr. Keith Meister, who did the follow-up exam that showed the ligament had lost its elasticity, did surgery enter the conversation.

The change in diagnosis also means a shift in plans for the Tigers. They’ve centered their rebuild around a gifted group of young starters, with Mize at — or near — the top. Now, Detroit will have to put together a rotation without him for a while.

“We’ll all be thinking of Casey,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We know he’s going to be better on the other side of this.”

The Tigers have stockpiled young pitchers knowing that some would get hurt, just based on the odds. Here is where their depth comes into play. The rookie hurlers who have been filling rotation spots for over a month now have to be viewed as potential long-term starters.

Detroit has generally been cautious bringing back pitchers from Tommy John surgery in recent years, usually taking around 14-15 months. Mize is expected to have his surgery next week. A recovery of 14-15 months after a mid-June surgery could give him enough time to return near the end of next season, but it’s far from guaranteed.

That means the Tigers not only have to plan without Mize for the rest of this season, but also next year. That’s where the experience that their young starters are gaining by filling in right now has the chance to pay dividends.

As sharp as the injury bug has bitten Detroit’s pitching staff this season, what the Tigers have gotten from former first-round pick Alex Faedo is arguably a stroke of good fortune. At a stage when many pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery are battling inconsistent command, Faedo has delivered five-plus innings with two runs or fewer in all seven of his starts so far.

That said, the Tigers will eventually take steps to watch Faedo’s innings, whether it involves skipping some starts like they did with Mize last year, or moving him to the bullpen for a stretch like they did with Tarik Skubal early last season.

Beau Brieske, who starts on Saturday, has tossed 52 innings over 10 starts this season between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo. He’s almost halfway to his career high of 106 2/3 innings pitched, which he set last year between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie. But the Tigers like how Brieske has been learning from his starts, and hope to keep running him through the starting routine.

On the flip side, Elvin Rodriguez has given up 18 runs on 19 hits over his last two starts against the slugging Yankees and Blue Jays. Toronto’s three second-inning home runs made Rodriguez the first Tigers pitcher to give up seven homers over a two-game stretch since Matthew Boyd did so Aug. 8-13, 2019. It’s a harsh lesson for a young right-hander who entered this season with just two innings above the Double-A level.

Rodriguez acknowledged that after his pitch-tipping issue last week in New York, he was concerned about not doing it again, and it affected his focus. He was optioned to Triple-A Toledo after Friday’s game to work on further development.

“I just wanted to avoid a situation of tipping pitches like what happened in New York,” Rodriguez said via Tigers media relations bilingual coordinator Carlos Guillen. “It didn’t help me to be focused on what I had to do today.”

Friday’s loss came a day after Eduardo Rodriguez delivered four shutout innings and nine strikeouts in a rehab start for Triple-A Toledo. Hinch said they haven’t decided if Eduardo will need another rehab start to stretch out to five innings; he could well do that in Detroit and replace Elvin in the starting rotation.

Further down the road is fellow veteran Michael Pineda, who threw a bullpen session Friday as he works back from a fractured right middle finger. The Tigers won’t put him on a rehab assignment until he can throw sliders again, something the injury hampered him from doing.

Joey Wentz could eventually become an option once he returns from injury, but the neck/shoulder issue that knocked him out of his last Tigers start May 31 is expected to keep him out a while.

Just as critical, of course, is Matt Manning’s return from the shoulder inflammation that has sidelined him. He’s expected to resume his throwing program in the coming days after tests showed no structural damage.

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