Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Lorenzen wants to hit in 2023: ‘I have 4 bats coming’

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — A reporter laughed as right-handed pitcher Michael Lorenzen, who signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract this offseason, revealed his desire to compete as a two-way player, in some capacity, with the Detroit Tigers.

Only Lorenzen wasn’t kidding around.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I have four bats coming.”

Lorenzen has a long history of hitting baseballs. He played center field and collected 702 plate appearances at Cal State Fullerton, had 42 plate appearances in the minor leagues after the Cincinnati Reds selected him as a pitcher at No. 38 overall in the 2013 draft.

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In the big leagues, Lorenzen owns a .233 batting average with seven home runs, seven walks and 47 strikeouts in 147 plate appearances. If needed, the 31-year-old could play outfield or pinch-hit for the Tigers.

If successful, his value as a player would increase.

“You never know,” Lorenzen said Monday at the Tigers’ spring training facility. “I love the game, too. I’m obsessed with the game of baseball.”

Lorenzen pitched for the Los Angeles Angels last season. He posted a 4.24 ERA with 44 walks and 85 strikeouts over 97⅔ innings in 18 starts, serving as a full-time starter for the first time since 2015.

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In September, he rarely used his sinker, curveball and cutter. Instead, he flashed his four-seamer and changeup to left-handed hitters and his four-seamer and slider to right-handed hitters. Refining his pitch usage helped him record a 2.36 ERA in his final five starts.

“The Angels wouldn’t let me hit last year,” Lorenzen said. “I tried and tried and tried. They wouldn’t let me do it, so I’m going to continue to try here and see if I get a different response.”

His best performance at the plate came in 2018 when he hit .290 with four homers, two walks and nine strikeouts in 34 plate appearances, but never started a game as a position player.

In 2019, Lorenzen started six games in center field and logged a career-high 53 plate appearances, hitting .208 with one home run, five walks and 17 strikeouts. He became the first player to earn the win as a pitcher, hit a home run and play a position in the field in the same game since Babe Ruth in 1921.

National League pitchers were required to either hit or exit the game until the designated hitter became universal in 2022. In recent history, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke were known as the NL’s best hitting pitchers.

“I think I would have some success with the bat if I got the opportunity,” Lorenzen said. “I have to sneak into a (batting) cage and batting practice group. I’ll tell them to put the technology on me and tell me if my swing plays. I’ll let them decide.”

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After Lorenzen joined the Angels — an American League team — last season, the organization’s leaders wouldn’t let him hit in games. He said former manager Joe Maddon wanted to give him the opportunity, but the front office apparently shot down the idea.

The Angels roster the best two-way player in the world: Shohei Ohtani, the 2021 AL MVP and 2022 AL MVP runner-up. Ohtani last season hit .273 with 34 home runs in 666 plate appearances, and registered a 2.33 ERA with 44 walks and 219 strikeouts in 166 innings.

“We tried and tried,” Lorenzen said. “Maybe (the Angels) thought if Ohtani went down (with an injury) one day, and the next day, I’m hitting and I get hit by a pitch, now we got two starters down. That’s why I was maybe thinking they were saying no.”

That didn’t stop Lorenzen from practicing his swing.

Pitching against the Houston Astros in the AL West inspired a swing change. He noticed something about Houston’s hitters — though he wouldn’t reveal details — and reviewed film from his freshman year of college. At Cal State Fullerton, he hit .322 with an .869 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 167 games.

Lorenzen made a “natural adjustment” last season and carried the work into the offseason.

“Just one little adjustment,” Lorenzen said. “It feels pretty good. It’s just my bat path, the start of my bat path and not getting too steep.”

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A lot has changed for the Tigers since the 2022 season ended. President of baseball operations Scott Harris has created depth on the roster, and manager A.J. Hinch has hired three new hitting coaches. All offseason, newcomers and mainstays have been asked to buy into the new culture of development.

It’s unlikely, but maybe the Tigers will buy into Lorenzen’s idea.

“For me, I never thought I was going to be a major league pitcher,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a major league center fielder. It’s actually strange because I feel more comfortable being a position player.”

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

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