Tiny grip change puts bite back into Jose Cisnero’s slider

Detroit News

Chicago − Three hours before the game Friday and reliever Jose Cisnero was already in full lather.

“It’s not my call, it’s their decision on when they want to use me,” he said, still sweating from his pre-game workout. “But I prepare myself to be ready on a daily basis whether they call my name or not. Physically I am ready for anything.”

Cisnero will almost certainly get his name called at least a couple of times this weekend. The Tigers, facing a right-handed dominant White Sox lineup, are starting left-handed pitchers Friday night (Eduardo Rodriguez) and Sunday (Tyler Alexander).

Big blocks of right-handed hitters will be awaiting.

Finally, in what has been an abbreviated season, Cisnero might be getting some heavier work.

“He pitches when the matchups are best,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He doesn’t have a defined spot necessarily. Trying to incorporate him after he missed most of the season, you want to lead him to success. You want him to stay healthy. I’ve been very careful about leaning on him too much.”

It might be time to take the safety belt off. In his last 11 games covering 10.1 innings, Cisnero has allowed one run and five singles, striking out 10 and holding hitters to a .143 batting average.

“He’s been good,” Hinch said. “He’s into his second month now and he’s responding really well.”

Cisnero, a late-inning workhouse for the Tigers the last three seasons, missed most of the first four months of the season with a shoulder injury. By the time he got back, the late-inning jobs were taken with Gregory Soto, Alex Lange, Andrew Chafin, Joe Jimenez and Jason Foley.

But his effectiveness, steady all along, has been too good lately to ignore.

More:A long journey from darkness back to light for Tigers Akil Baddoo

“He’s kind of sneakily been really good,” Hinch said last week. “I eased him into action when he came back and he’s been slowly getting better. The adjustment he made with his breaking ball, that’s been big.”

Ah, that. Two weeks ago, Cisnero went to pitching coaches Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves. His slider and sinker were becoming too similar, both moving on similar horizontal plane.

“I needed to have a different movement,” Cisnero said, through Tigers interpreter Carlos Guillen. “I needed something that was different from my other pitches. I’ve been working on that since I got off the injured list.”

He changed the placement of his index finger on his slider grip and it completely altered the shape of the pitch. Instead of sweeping action, Cisnero’s slider has vertical bite. Last year, according to StatCast, Cisnero’s slider had 29.8 inches of vertical movement. Since the grip change, he’s getting 33.5 inches of vertical movement.

Hitters are 2 for 22 against his slider this year. It’s made his 95-mph sinker more effective and it’s also opened the top part of the strike zone for the 95-mph four-seamer (.220 opponent average, 32.7 swing-and-miss rate).

He’s pitched in just 29 games this season, but in 19.2 innings, 81 batters, he’s allowed just two extra-base hits, both doubles.

Useful.

The only issue has been his command. A 17.3% walk rate is problematic. He’s walked six in this recent 11-game stretch, with only one of those scoring.

But Cisnero is 33 and going into his second year of arbitration with a new leadership team calling the shots. He made $970,000 this season and he has two more years of team control.

“It’s not on me,” he said. “I don’t make those decisions. But what I can tell you is, regardless of how many innings I end up with, I want to convince myself that I do have enough stuff to be part of this team next year.”

To that end, Cisnero said he wants pitch another 15-20 innings in the Dominican Winter League in the offseason.

“I would think that would be something the organization would welcome just because his workload has been so minimal – performance-wise, health-wise, endurance-wise,” Hinch said. “I’m sure he misses baseball a little bit, too. He’s missed most of the year spending the summer in Lakeland.

“It would probably be beneficial for him to stay competitive for as long as he can.”

Running out of starts

Mapping out the remaining games of the season, Hinch said Rodriguez (counting Friday’s start) and Matt Manning will each have three starts left.

If they average six innings in those starts, Rodriguez would finish with 21 starts and 108 innings counting his four rehab starts. That would be the fewest innings he’s thrown since 2016. But being a seven-year veteran, he wouldn’t likely have any workload restrictions going into next season.

Manning would finish with 21 starts and 101 innings. All things considered, that would be a nice recovery after he missed more than three months with shoulder inflammation. Still, at least innings some restrictions could be implemented for him next season.

Drew Hutchison, who starts Saturday, will likely make his final start of the season on Sept. 30 against the Twins. Tyler Alexander, who starts Sunday, is in line to pitch the season finale at Seattle on Oct. 5.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at White Sox

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Scouting report

RHP Drew Hutchison (2-9, 4.59), Tigers: The White Sox caught him on a bad day Sunday. His fastball command wasn’t as sharp as it is typically and he ended up throwing a disproportionate number of sliders (43 to 29 heaters). The six runs he allowed in 4.2 innings Sunday were more than he allowed in his three other outings against the White Sox (four in 12 innings).

RHP Davis Martin (2-4, 3.78), White Sox: The Tigers never did figure him out last Saturday at Comerica Park, mustering three hits and a run in six innings. He threw 60% four-seamers, firm ones sitting at 94 mph and hitting 97, which the Tigers hunted (31 swings) but did very little damage against. He threw just enough curves and sliders to keep hitters honest.

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