No egos, no entitlement, just results: Tigers’ bullpen continues to flourish

Detroit News

Chicago — Tigers’ manager AJ Hinch took a quick psyche check on his closer Friday night after the Tigers held on for a 7-5 win over the White Sox.

Gregory Soto, who earned a stressful save on Thursday night, stayed in the bullpen Friday while Michael Fulmer got the final three outs, stranding the tying runs at first and third for his second save of the season.

Hinch thought it prudent to explain his decision to Soto – though, turns out, he didn’t need to.

“I pulled Soto into my office,” Hinch said before the game Saturday. “I told him, ‘Don’t take it personal. I had Michael up a couple nights in a row (without using him).’ Gregory said, ‘No, we won. It’s awesome.” Those guys love pitching at the end of the game, but they also love pitching around each other.

“That’s probably the best thing for me. The quality and the acceptance that comes whenever I pitch them.”

In a 1-0 game Thursday night, Hinch got Fulmer, a right-handed pitcher, up in case he was needed for a string of five right-handed hitters that were coming up in the ninth. But after the Tigers tacked on a run, he went to his lefty closer Soto.

“So I sit Fulmer down and Soto comes in and has his inning with tough matchups and he gets through it,” Hinch said. “The first guy that’s happy is Fulmer…These guys feed off each other.”

Between Fulmer (one run allowed in his last 10 innings), Soto (six saves, 14 strikeouts in his last 10 innings), Alex Lange (13 strikeouts, three runs allowed in his last 10 innings), Andrew Chafin (one run, 12 strikeouts in his last 10.1 innings) and Joe Jimenez (two runs, 14 strikeouts in his last 10 innings), Hinch has a lot of quality options to go to at the end of the game.

Any one of those relievers could legitimately be selected to the American League All-Star team next week.

“It’s one of the things I appreciate about our team, just the variety of roles where you can sit a guy or two and still feel you have a path to a win,” Hinch said. “That’s a pretty good sign and I’ve leaned on them quite a bit…The back end is pretty deep.

“But they haven’t argued for roles. They haven’t really fought to pitch in any particular order. They all just take the ball when I ask and perform, to a man.”

The Grossman calculation

Hinch gave outfielder Robbie Grossman the day off Saturday. It was a scheduled day off, but the timing was good. Grossman, who is battling through the worst offensive season of his career, was hitting 3 for 25 in July with nine strikeouts.

His season slash-line is the lowest of any of his seven full seasons in the big leagues (.204/.308/.280 with a .588 OPS).

“They are pitching him up and in a ton, that’s no secret,” Hinch said. “And he’s having a hard time getting to that ball. He did the other day a hit (a triple) off the scoreboard. But he’s stuck in between chasing the power and also being a good hitter.”

Chasing power has had an overall negative effect on his at-bats. His launch angle is steep, 21 inches. That’s the same as it was last year when he hit a career-high 23 home runs, but it’s six inches steeper than it was for most of his career.

The reason he is being pitched up and in is because the steep angle of his swing creates a hole up there. Pitchers began beating him up there at the end of last season and haven’t stopped.

He has a career-high 24.7% whiff rate and a career-high 30% strikeout rate.

Compounding the problem, his damage-to-contact ratio is down considerably. The average exit velocity on balls in play is 86.9 mph, down from 89 mph. The percentage of balls that are considered barrels is down from 7.6% to 4%.

Essentially, instead of driving balls, he’s launching them in the air. According to Statcast data, he is hitting underneath 37.7% of pitches he hits (as opposed to topping them or hitting them square) – and that is a career-high.

“It hasn’t been an overly productive year for him,” Hinch said. “But he is still in control of his at-bats and he’s still trying to do the right things. But his propensity to hit the ball a little too high is a negative, for sure.”

Grossman has made subtle changes at the plate throughout the season, most recently bring back a higher leg kick. He is also trying to level out his swing path, but that’s proving to be a tough fix.

Little off the sides

Tigers coach Ramon Santiago should’ve known better.

Back when the Tigers were struggling to win games, he made the statement that if the club won six games in a row, he’d shave his head. So guess what happened when the Tigers got back into the clubhouse Friday night after beating the White Sox and running their winning streak to six.

Soto was waiting with a hair trimmer and a chair.

“We were talking a while back about needing to put together a good stretch of games,” Hinch said. “We were talking about winning a series, winning three in a row, four in a row. And Santy threw the number six out there. Before the game (Friday) it was talked about.

“Like, be careful what you say when a team starts rallying around a topic. That was the first thing they wanted to do last night was shave his head.”

Santiago, as the video the Tigers posted on Twitter showed, did indeed let Soto shave his head.

“To answer your next question about when I’m going to do it,” Hinch said. “We’re going to need a lot more wins.”

Around the horn

…Riley Greene came into the game Saturday on a 0-for-12 stretch with seven strikeouts. He was punched out four times Friday night. Saturday was Greene’s 20th straight start since being called up. A day off is coming soon, but Hinch made it clear it wasn’t a reaction to the 12 at-bats. “As soon as you have a stretch of at-bats where he doesn’t get a hit,” Hinch said. “It’s funny to me to think of that as a stretch that matters. He’s going to continue to get his opportunities and he good.”

…Shortstop Javier Baez, reveling in his role as villain here on the Southside of Chicago, posted a single, double and home run in the first two games against the White Sox. It’s a continuation of a trend. Since June 16, a span of 20 games, his 147 wRC-plus is third best among MLB shortstops and his 0.8 WAR is tied for fourth. He’s slashing .278/.301/.570 with five homers and 15 RBI in that stretch.

…Hinch said it is unlikely outfielder Austin Meadows will be joining the club in Kansas City. He was held out of his rehab game with Toledo Saturday and it was unclear whether he would play Sunday. He’s still reporting general soreness.


Tigers at White Sox

Guaranteed Rate Field.

2:10 p.m.

TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit, 97.1.

Scouting report

RHP Drew Hutchison (1-4, 4.30), Tigers: He doesn’t have the same power tools a lot of pitchers have these days, but he’s a craftsman nevertheless, and he brings to every outing the wisdom of an 18-year journey in professional baseball. He mixes sliders, changeups and sinkers off a 92-92 mph four-seam fastball and he lives on the margins of the strike zone. Not a lot of chase or swing-and-miss, but when he’s right, he gets a lot of soft contact and quick outs.

RHP Michael Kopech (2-6, 3.34), White Sox: He’s been leaking oil lately, losing his last four starts, giving up 16 earned runs in 21 innings. He’s allowed 11 walks in that span and seven home runs. Left-handed hitters have been bedeviling him. They are slugging 200 points higher than right-handed hitters with an OPS nearly 300 points higher. Still, on the whole, he’s holding hitters under .200 with his four-seamer, slider and curve ball.

–Chris McCosky

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