How a reworked off-speed pitch elevated Detroit Tigers’ Tyler Alexander’s game

Detroit Free Press

Tyler Alexander was speaking in the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse after perhaps his best relief appearance of 2022.

He inherited  a bases-loaded situation, got out of it and proceeded to throw 3⅓ scoreless innings, Monday  while the offense scored four unanswered runs in a 5-3 win over the Guardians.

Standing in front of his locker, he shared what’s been one main difference in his recent success:

He reworked his off-speed pitch. Again.

Why?

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“I thought my slider was crap,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always thought my slider was crap so I’m always tinkering with breaking balls.”

Alexander wasn’t effective with his slider earlier this season prior to his trip to the injured list April 30 with a sprained left elbow.

It wasn’t just his off-speed, Alexander, because of his arm’s limitations, was compensating with his body, so he spent six weeks in Lakeland, Florida working his way back to health before a rehab stint in Toledo.

That’s where he began the “tinkering” process with his breaking ball. Monday, having officially ditched his old slider, he grabbed a baseball to demonstrate the  form on his new “curveball thing.”

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Alexander spreads his fingers wide like a two-seam fastball, snaps his wrist like he’s throwing a breaking ball and lets it spin off his fourth finger to get more depth and glove-side run.

“It’s, like, more horizontal, the grip is really weird,” he said. “My goal when I first started throwing it was to make it look like a slower cutter but it’s just kind of turned and modeled a little bit after Rich Hill’s curveball. That’s kind of the shape I want.”

The early returns are everything Alexander had hoped for.

Since his return to the big leagues June 14, the 27-year-old has allowed just one earned run in 13⅓ innings on eight hits, six walks and seven strikeouts in six appearances, as his ERA has dropped from 8.76 to 4.56.

The advent of the latest pitch has allowed the southpaw to do what he does best — induce weak contact.

Opponents in his past six games are hitting .174 with a .196 slugging percentage and .208 on-base percentage.

Alexander ranks in the 96th percentile in average exit velocity, according to baseball savant. He’s also near the top of the league in hard-hit rate (82nd percentile) and in the top half in barrel percentage (55th percentile).

“(In Boston) was the first time I threw it at this level and it was really good,” he said.

“I was shocked that it was good, so I’ve been throwing it a lot.”

The new pitch, which is one of five he throws as part of his crafty-lefty repertoire, helped miss bats Monday.

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He needed just 32 pitches to record 10 outs.

“(He’s) just so efficient,” catcher Eric Haase said. “(Cleveland) makes a ton of contact, you know you’re going to get a ton of contact with them so for him to come out, execute pitches like that, miss barrels left and right, I think he only had one or two punch-outs, something like that.

“But other than just a bunch of weak ground balls, weak pop-ups, that’s huge and when he is on, that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

His recent success, coupled with the Tigers’ depleted pitching rotation — which took another hit Monday when Alex Faedo left his start in the fourth inning with right hip soreness — has led to questions for manager A.J. Hinch about possibly sliding Alexander  back in for a start or two.

“I’m not sure, because if he’s in the rotation then we don’t have him there for the 3⅓,” Hinch said. “Right now I think we’re fine. … We’ll piece it together between now and the All-Star break.

“Tyler will be down for a day or two but I sure do like having him there in that bridge (to get to the back end of the bullpen).”

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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