Wentz makes strong case for ’23 rotation role

Detroit Tigers

BALTIMORE — When outlining his vision for direction of the franchise Tuesday afternoon in Detroit, new Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris spent a notable chunk of his introductory press conference talking about winning the battle within the strike zone. Four hundred miles away, those words resonated with manager A.J. Hinch, who was heavily involved in Harris’ hiring and jumped on the opportunity to apply that philosophy towards rookie starter Joey Wentz.

“His command of the strike zone is going to be his calling card for him to have success,” Hinch said. “It’s all predicated on controlling the strike zone and getting strike one.”

So it was encouraging to all involved how Wentz, the team’s No. 25 prospect per MLB Pipeline, spent his evening on the mound at Oriole Park doing just that. Tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings en route to his second career victory, Wentz starred in Detroit’s 3-2 win over the Orioles in the left-hander’s latest audition for a role in next year’s rotation.

“He is throwing strikes, attacking a game plan, spinning the ball just enough to make the other side aware, and we’d like to see more of that,” Hinch said. “We’re very early in his stage of development at this level, but in his first couple starts back he’s learned his stuff plays. He can keep us in a game. He could dominate a lineup. Get strike one, get into leverage, control the strike zone.”

Acquired from the Braves in the 2019 trade for Shane Greene, Wentz is getting a long look down the stretch for a Tigers team assessing its rotation options for ’23. The 24-year-old has impressed since assuming Michael Pineda’s rotation slot earlier this month, pitching to a 1.10 ERA with 14/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 1/3 innings across three starts.

A night after southpaw Tyler Alexander took a no-hitter into the seventh against the Orioles, Wentz was in control more or less from the start. He retired his first eight batters in order and held Baltimore to two singles, while walking two. He threw 53 of his 86 pitches for strikes.

“I want to play well and show well, and if I do that, I think it’ll help for next year,” Wentz said. “So I definitely view it as an opportunity.”

Tuesday’s performance was Wentz’s second scoreless outing in three starts; he also blanked the Royals for 6 2/3 innings on Sept. 9 in his return to the big leagues following two spot starts in May. Wentz is also scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Fall League to build up innings after missing much of the summer with a pinched nerve in his shoulder.

“All you can ask for is an opportunity,” Wentz said. “Nothing is really given out. Hopefully you take your opportunity and do well.”

When the Tigers look to 2023, only Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Manning appear like locks for the projected rotation (with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal still rehabbing injuries). That should leave plenty of opportunity for someone like Wentz, particularly if he keeps pitching to his strengths down the stretch. The Tigers are using these final few weeks to gauge precisely how he fits into their future plans.

“We’re going to start with the strike zone,” Harris said back in Detroit. “We want to dominate the strike zone on both sides of the ball, and we want to acquire, develop and retain players that can give us a chance to do that.”

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