Tigers mulling possible bullpen roles for Hill, Brieske in ’23

Detroit News

Baltimore, Md. — AJ Hinch was talking about rookie Garrett Hill after the loss to the White Sox on Sunday. Hill had one really good inning and one rough one.

“His stuff was very good at the beginning, really explosive,” Hinch said. “Once he got into the stretch, it was a little bit different. But he’s learning. This is a little different role for him.”

Hinch then said he wouldn’t mind bringing him in out of the bullpen with a runner or two on base to see how he handled that. He said he might give him some shorter stints on shorter rest.

Wait a minute. Why was Hinch talking about using Hill in more specialized relief roles?

Hill was sent to the bullpen as a way to minimize his total innings for this season without shutting him down. He’s at 123.1 innings right now, about 48 more than he threw last year pitching in High-A and Double-A. And that’s with five relief outings.

Is there a plan in the works for Hill to be a bullpen arm next season?

“I still want him to be considered a starter,” Hinch said. “But there is some intrigue on how he enters these games.”

Hill changed his delivery a couple of weeks ago and started using a more traditional, hands-over-the-head wind-up with bases empty. His velocity in the shorter stints spiked to 96 and 97 mph. And even counting the three-run seventh inning Sunday (keyed by a 450-foot homer by Eloy Jimenez), Hill is holding hitters to a .225 average with 12 strikeouts in his 11 relief innings.

You can see how his stuff — not only the energized heater, but he can spin the ball well, too, and has a changeup — might play well out of the pen.

“We haven’t decided anything yet,” Hinch said. “Right now, none of us are thinking clearly on what should be done. It’s certainly an option.”

Hinch said fellow rookie Beau Brieske fits the same profile. He, too, could be an option out of the bullpen.

But the Tigers would have to fill some of the projected holes in the rotation before they would be tempted to remove Hill and Brieske from the competition.

You’d think, anyway.

As it stands now, the Tigers won’t have Tarik Skubal (flexor tendon surgery), Casey Mize (Tommy John) or possibly Alex Faedo (hip surgery) at the start of next season. They are hoping Spencer Turnbull (Tommy John) will be ready at the start of spring training, but his recovery has been alarmingly slow to this point.

Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Manning are the only two names you could write in ink for next year.

Joey Wentz and Tyler Alexander will be in the fight and the Tigers will have to make a decision on veteran Drew Hutchison — and they’ve already set a precedent, designating him for assignment three times.

If Hill and Brieske aren’t in the rotation mix, then, almost assuredly, the Tigers will have to dip back into the free-agent pool for starting pitchers.

“We just want our best pitchers to pitch,” Hinch said. “There are opportunities to switch roles, but right now, committing to that is way too soon.”

Not an audition

Coaches and managers will always tell you the least-useful times to evaluate young players are spring training and the last month of the season, especially when the team is out of playoff contention.

But that’s not to say the experience young Tigers players like Kerry Carpenter, Ryan Kreidler, Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kody Clemens (before he was optioned) are getting isn’t valuable.

“Everything you do matters,” Hinch said. “Every impression you can make matters. It doesn’t mean we’re like the stock market, where it goes up when you have a good day and down when you have a bad day. There is a long view to this.

“I think it’s important for guys to understand they are all playing for something … They need to do well, but these final games, it’s not like a salary drive.”

And with Scott Harris now on board as president of baseball operations, the evaluation process could change. Different eyes, different standards, different ways to measure and evaluate. In some ways, it will be a clean slate for most of the current players, with no previous history.

“The days of the same guys getting opportunities is probably going to be challenged,” Hinch said. “That’s something the new regime is going to have to look at. Some guys who are here will probably be part of that. And some guys are going to have to fight for their opportunities again.”

The only players with contracts for 2023 are Miguel Cabrera, Javier Baez, Rodriguez, Jonathan Schoop, Turnbull and Andrew Chafin (player option). Jeimer Candelario, Jose Cisnero, Joe Jimenez and Hutchison are in the final year of arbitration, while Austin Meadows, Victor Reyes and Harold Castro are in their second years of arbitration.

All others are either pending free agents, in the first year of arbitration or are pre-arbitration.

Around the horn

… Hinch said Miguel Cabrera, activated off the injured list before the game, will play Monday and Wednesday against the Orioles. “I remember last year I sat him here when he was at 499 homers,” Hinch said. “A guy behind our dugout leaned over and said I owed him $50 bucks because he bought a ticket to see Miggy. Now they know, barring another injury, he will be in the lineup tonight and Wednesday.”

… Before his pregame media session, Hinch told a funny story about how he got fined for hitting a home run at Camden Yards. “I was fined in Kangaroo Court by Kevin Mitchell,” he said. “He’d been punched out by (Orioles pitcher) Arthur Rhodes right before I homered. He said I disrespected a veteran by hitting that home run.” The fine was $100. “I didn’t pay it,” Hinch said.

On deck: Tigers at Orioles

First pitch: 7:05 Tuesday, Orioles Park

TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit/97.1.

Scouting report

LHP Joey Wentz (1-2, 4.15), Tigers: He did a lot of positive things in his last start against the Astros, allowing two runs in four-plus innings. They stacked eight right-handed hitters against him and he countered with a lot of cutters and changeups off his four-seamer. The only hard-hit balls off him came in the fourth (a homer by Kyle Tucker and a double by Trey Mancini). But it took him 91 pitches to get into the fifth, which is why his night ended so quickly.

RHP Austin Voth (5-2, 4.36), Orioles: He’s been toggled between the rotation and bullpen and starts lately have been short. He’s covered 19 innings in his last four starts, allowing six runs with 16 strikeouts. His four-seam fastball (93-94 mph) has good ride through the zone and his primary secondary pitches are a curveball (30% whiff rate) and cutter.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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