With an ‘oh my gosh’ slider, White primed for call-up in 2023

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. — Tigers manager A.J. Hinch is looking at multi-inning relievers who can bridge the gap between Detroit’s projected starters — none of whom pitched a full season last year — and a rebuilt back end of the bullpen filled with high-strikeout young arms. So when Brendan White came in from the bullpen to follow Matthew Boyd for the third inning of Thursday’s 10-3 win over the Orioles, it was an interesting test for a reliever in his first Major League camp who pitched the ninth inning in his previous outing Sunday.

“Definitely different from last week,” White said. “But it was good. Same prep, same routine.”

Realistically, there was a bit of coincidence to it. Hinch had White warming in the second inning in case Boyd hit his pitch count early. Lefty relief candidate Chasen Shreve was lined up to pitch the fourth inning against the four consecutive left-handed hitters in the middle of the O’s lineup. That opened the third inning for White against the top of Baltimore’s order, including 2022 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Adley Rutschman and 2023 AL Rookie of the Year candidate Gunnar Henderson.

Still, even if it wasn’t necessarily an audition, it was a showcase. As White worked through Baltimore’s talented young hitters, allowing a sharp ground-ball single to Rutschman but striking out Henderson on a 96 mph fastball, it was easy to see why the Tigers like White for the long-term. It’s also easy to see why the Tigers feared losing White in the Rule 5 Draft if they hadn’t added him to the 40-man roster in the offseason.

The fastball — which has a natural cut movement due to White’s throwing mechanics — got outs, but the high-spin slider is the pitch that plays. On Sunday, he threw three sliders and drew whiffs on all of them, averaging 3,008 rpm. His eight sliders Thursday didn’t garner any swings and misses, but drew two called strikes, averaging 2,889 rpm.

For reference, just 11 Major League pitchers who threw more than 200 sliders last year averaged at least 2,850 rpm, according to Statcast.

“Oh my gosh,” Hinch said of the slider Thursday. “The metrics are great. His usage is great. He’s got a ton of confidence in it. It can be a strike, or [move] strike to ball. Everything about it says it’s going to be effective.”

That’s the kind of spin rate that Tigers top prospect Jackson Jobe draws with his slider. White, 24, was a 26th-round pick in the 2019 Draft out of Siena College. He was once a certified trainer in his offseason to support his baseball dreams. After a breakout 2022 season at Double-A Erie, he focused his efforts on his baseball career and making an impression in camp.

“We’ve got to get him in the zone into leverage [counts],” Hinch continued. “He’s got a cutter he needs to work on. But we knew the slider would play.”

It might not get him to Detroit right away, but at this point, his arrival seems more a matter of when than if.

“Everything’s a stepping stone,” White said. “Just getting my feet wet last week was nice, to get on the [mound] and feel competition again. Today was just another step in the right direction, continuing to get feedback from the coaching staff and understand how they want me to approach situations.”

After making an impression on Tigers coaches last year in Minor League camp, White broke out as a do-everything reliever at Erie, winning six games, saving nine others, allowing just 44 hits over 67 1/3 innings, walking 17 and striking out 73. He pitched six outs or more in 18 of his 48 outings. Neither left- nor right-handed batters hit over .200 against him. Add in a splitter as an offspeed pitch, and he has an arsenal for all situations, and he attacks hitters.

In Major League camp, the biomechanics enthusiast is learning more about how his pitches work and the data behind them, picking coaches’ brains as well as veteran pitchers.

“It’s been a blast, honestly,” White said. “You have a ton of information, and I’m learning more about how my stuff plays and when I can use it. It’s been a ton of fun picking [coaches’] brains. I’m doing my best to soak it all in.”

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