Chasen Shreve could fill vital role in Detroit Tigers bullpen, which feels like home to him

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers were strategically late to the party.

Left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve, a nine-year MLB veteran, had a few teams on his radar when the Tigers finally expressed interest in early January. He put the Tigers at the top of his wish list when the offseason began, so they were the frontrunners all along.

Behind the scenes, the Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a trade involving left-handed reliever Gregory Soto. Once the trade became official, the Tigers immediately responded to their need for another lefty in the bullpen by signing Shreve to a minor-league contract.

He thinks he can be a high-leverage reliever.

“My whole family is from Detroit,” Shreve said. “My mom and dad grew up there with my uncles and cousins. Everybody’s from there, so they’re all stoked. I thought it was a good fit for me. … It was a no-brainer to sign with the Tigers.”

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Shreve’s parents, Cynthia and Douglas, were born and raised in nearby Redford Township. They lived in Michigan until the late 1970s, when they quit their jobs and drove a hippie van across the country.

“It’s actually really cool,” Shreve said. “I love that they did that.”

His parents stopped in Las Vegas, where a family member lived, from September 1976 through February 1977. They were enamored by the City of Lights, so they returned to Redford Township, packed their bags and planted their roots in Vegas.

The big move sparked a domino effect throughout the family.

“Next was my grandma, and then a couple of my mom’s sisters,” said Shreve, who was born in Vegas in 1990. “Everybody lives in Vegas besides one of my aunts. I was back in Detroit when my great grandma died in 2003. We went back for two months and cleaned up her house, and my parents’ friends have a lake house, so we drove up there for a week.”

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Each offseason, Shreve returns to Vegas — the place he calls home — and trains at Greathouse Physical Therapy, which doubles as a sports science training center, in preparation for the next season.

Detroit is like a second home, and he has big goals with the Tigers in 2023. The first goal, though, is to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster coming out of spring training in Lakeland, Florida. He will earn $1.25 million if he makes the team.

“I want to show people that I’m one of the best lefty relievers in the game,” Shreve said. “That’s truly how I feel. I’m going to pitch my best, and hopefully, I find myself in an important role towards the end of the year.”

‘Nobody knows I was hurt last year’

It was a mix of good and bad in the 2022 season.

Shreve, 32, posted a 6.49 ERA with 10 walks and 29 strikeouts in 26⅓ innings over 25 relief appearances for the New York Mets. He looked like the Mets’ second-best reliever through his first 10 games — logging a 1.54 ERA and two walks in 11⅔ innings — before falling apart in his final 15 games.

“Nobody knows I was hurt last year,” Shreve said. “I was pitching through a shoulder injury, and that’s when my ERA blew up. I should have gone to the injured list, but I was trying not to. It ended my year.”

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Six weeks into the season, Shreve felt shoulder pain during a postgame workout. He experienced soreness for a couple days. The soreness eventually went away, then flared up again in different parts of his shoulder. Both Shreve and the Mets chalked up the situation to dead arm — a fancy word for fatigue — without structural damage.

His ego wouldn’t allow a much-needed trip to the injured list.

“I pride myself on being ready and being able to pitch every day,” Shreve said. “That’s what I took away from last year: Don’t try to be the hero. You’re facing the best hitters in the world, so don’t go out there at 70% (health).”

Over his final 15 games, Shreve registered a 10.43 ERA with eight walks in 14⅔ innings. He allowed seven runs to the Houston Astros across 1⅓ innings in back-to-back outings June 21 and June 28.

On July 5, the Mets reinstated ace Max Scherzer from the injured list. In a corresponding move, Shreve was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. The Mets released him three days later, and around that time, he received a definitive answer about his ailing left arm.

“When I got my MRI, I had a shoulder strain,” Shreve said. “I came home (to Las Vegas) and rehabbed for two months.”

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There wasn’t an official record of his shoulder injury, but he wanted to show teams he was healthy.

In late August, Shreve signed with the New York Yankees, where he spent four years of his MLB career, and tossed 4⅔ innings out of the bullpen at the Triple-A level to finish the season.

“Going into this offseason, nobody really knew I was hurt,” Shreve said. “Everybody just thought I had a terrible year. (The injury) was definitely a factor. I was pitching great and had the best start of my career.”

‘I think I’m a good fit’

The Tigers believe Shreve can produce in the big leagues this season. Barring another addition, he will be one of two left-handed relievers in spring training with significant experience at the highest level.

The other notable lefty reliever is swingman Tyler Alexander.

“We’re hopeful that we can add someone to our mix soon,” Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said after trading Soto, referencing a then-unsigned Shreve. “It may not be a major-league deal, but it may be someone that we’re excited about that we’re going to bring into camp.”

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At his best, Shreve consistently throws four-seam fastballs and splitters at the bottom of the strike zone. His fastball averaged 90.6 mph last season — 1 mph slower than his 2021 average — but appears faster because of his above-average spin rate and extension. For those reasons, teams have instructed Shreve to pitch at the top of the strike zone.

“It’s hard when you have a riding fastball,” Shreve said. “I only throw my splitter in the dirt. When you’re throwing (fastballs) up in the zone, and then you’re throwing splitters down in the zone, those hitters can tell the pitch out of the hand.”

Shreve focused on locating his fastball down in the strike zone this offseason. Last season, he threw 44.6% fastballs, 37% splitters and 18.4% sliders. His splitter had a whopping 42.5% swing-and-miss rate.

“Fastballs down are going to make my splitter play so much better,” Shreve said. “That’s what I was doing early last year. I was locating my fastball down and splitters in the dirt off that, and then my slider — year after year — keeps getting better. It’s a weapon that I’ve been using to both sides of the plate.”

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Shreve increased the usage of his slider over the past two seasons because he isn’t a power pitcher and his splitters end up in the dirt. When he would fall behind in counts, his opponents could wait for fastballs in the strike zone. Now, he has a developing slider to throw for strikes.

In 2021, Shreve’s slider graded as his best pitch. He posted a 3.20 ERA across 56⅓ innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Right-handers hit .221 in 131 plate appearances against him, while left-handers hit .200 in 104 plate appearances.

His walk rate improved from a below-average 11.9% in 2021 to an average 8.8% in 2022, and to solidify himself as a top left-handed reliever without elite velocity, he would benefit from keeping his walk rate below double digits.

“It’s more of a mindset thing,” Shreve said. “The mindset of attacking and knowing that getting ahead will be best for me. I haven’t had that extra step where teams take me more seriously as a back-end guy.”

High-leverage innings will be up for grabs in spring training. Alex Lange, José Cisnero, Jason Foley and Will Vest — all right-handed pitchers — appear to be the frontrunners for those jobs, but the Tigers surely need a reliable lefty for big moments at the end of games.

And Shreve is determined to fill that role in the bullpen.

“I think I’m a good fit,” Shreve said, “and I think (the Tigers) have faith that who I was in the first six weeks of last year, and then who I was in 2021, is who I could be this year. I think they see that value in me.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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