Tampa – Aaron Judge was dancing off second base. Right-hander Michael Lorenzen, making his spring debut for the Tigers Friday night against the Yankees’ A-team, had already made one pickoff attempt and Judge seemingly was trying to bait him into using his second and last move in the at-bat.
Lorenzen, in his ninth season, came set and then held the ball. The pitch clock ticked down inside 10 seconds, five seconds. Judge was frozen in place and with three seconds left, Lorenzen released the pitch.
Run game controlled.
“It’s kind of a different game now,” said Lorenzen, who the Tigers signed this offseason for $8.5 million. “You are watching runners, giving your looks, picking off to second. It was perfect. I got everything thrown at me…I enjoy it. It’s fun to play that game.
“I put it in my head that I am going to use the clock to my advantage and see how I can manipulate time and do different things like that.”
Lorenzen is going to be a fascinating watch this season. He’s got a seven-pitch mix and a cerebral approach to pitching. He can yo-yo hitters out of their rhythm just as he paralyzed Judge at second base by holding the ball and varying his times to the plate.
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“This was great,” he said of his 38-pitch, two-inning debut in the Tigers’ 5-3 spring, split-squad win over the Yankees. “I asked them to give me the night game here so I could experience the butterflies. Day games are easier. You don’t have as much time to think about it.”
He struck out the side around the Judge double in the first inning. He blew a 96-mph four-seam fastball past DJ LeMahieu after setting him up with a sweepy slider. He went the opposite way with Gleyber Torres, getting the swing-and-miss punch-out with the slider after setting him up with the heater.
With Giancarlo Stanton, he used his two-seamer and changeup to get the strikeout.
“I felt really good and my stuff was really good,” he said. “Just, the workload is going to get better and better, the conditioning of being on the mound throwing high-intent for longer periods of time. I’m only going to get more and more conditioned as we go on.
“I got a little tired in the second inning, yanking heaters and stuff.”
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He gave up a single to Willie Calhoun and Harrison Bader jumped a first-pitch fastball and smacked a double in the gap to put runners on second and third. But Lorenzen got a little help from center fielder Parker Meadows.
Meadows caught Isiah Kiner-Falafa’s fly ball in medium depth center field. Instead of trying to get Calhoun at the plate, he fired a one-hop missile to third base and nabbed the swift-running Bader.
“That was huge,” Lorenzen said. “I was fired up. It saved my pitch count, too. I needed that. Bader is fast and he hosed him. That was impressive.”
Lorenzen ended up throwing 16 sliders, getting three whiffs on six swings with two called strikes. Metrically, his spin rate was up 183 rpms from last season’s average. He threw nine four-seamers (95 mph), seven changeups and five sinkers (94 mph, with 158 rpms more than last season).
He only threw one curveball and didn’t use his cutter at all.
“It just shows the work I put in this offseason is paying off,” he said. “I feel like my pitch shapes are paying off, similar to the end of last season.”
Last September, after he came back from a shoulder injury, he went 2-0 in five starts, posting a 2.30 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.
“Everything was great tonight,” he said. “I want to live where I lived tonight.”
He’s got to do some work with the PitchCom, though. He let catcher Eric Haase call the game, but he had a PitchCom on his belt just in case of emergencies or unusual confusion. He’s going to have to find a different place to put it, though.
“With every pitch I threw, as I released it, I would hit a button,” he said. “So every time I threw a pitch, I’d hear, ‘Slider, away.’ It was driving me nuts.”
… Left-hander Tyler Holton, whom the Tigers claimed off waivers from Arizona, retired all six batters he faced. He, too, has an eclectic mix. He threw six changeups, six four-seamers (91), five sinkers (91), four cutters, two sliders and a curveball. He punched out three Yankee hitters.
… Zack Short blasted a home run off Yankees reliever Clarke Schmidt, whacking a 2-2 slider over the wall in left-center. It was the Tigers’ Grapefruit League-leading 17th home run.
… Outfielder Diego Rincones, 24 and a former prospect in the Giants system and is in minor league camp with the Tigers, had a pair of hits in his first spring action.