Tigers pitcher Alexander working on a couple of new looks – a shaved head and a revamped slider

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. – Tyler Alexander is dealing with a lot these days.

Let’s start with his hair. A package came for him in the clubhouse Saturday. It was a high-end men’s shaver and manscaper.

“Yeah, I’m going to shave my head,” the Tigers’ lefty reliever said.

Say what now?

“I don’t get enough haircuts,” Alexander said. “I get two haircuts a year and for like two weeks I like my hair. After that I have to wear a hat all the time. I’m tired of having to wear a hat all the time. I’m not going to wake up every morning and do my hair. I’m over that.”

So, at some point before the end of camp — he’s not exactly sure when he’s going to shorn himself — we are going to see a bald, mustachioed pitcher take to the mound for the Tigers.

“I think I’ll be a hot bald guy,” he said, laughing.

His other issue is this pesky slider he’s been trying to master and incorporate into his arsenal for the last few years. The process continues to be painful. He gave up over 800 feet of homers to a pair of Phillies sluggers in Clearwater Friday with the pitch.

“I’m trying to get my slider to be more of a swing-and-miss pitch,” he said. “I’m doing all sorts of stuff to make it harder and sharper.”

In the bottom of the fifth inning, he got ahead of right-handed hitting Edmundo Sosa 0-2 with two knifing cutters and tried to get him to chase a slider. The pitch spun over the middle of the plate and Sosa hit it like Sammy Sosa might have — 441 feet beyond the berm in left-center field.

“The first opportunity I got I tried to put someone away with it and he hit a homer,” Alexander said. “That was unfortunate.”

He was, as always, undaunted. Facing All Star catcher JT Realmuto with a man on in the sixth, Alexander again got up 0-2, this time with a cutter and four-seam fastball.

“I told myself the next guy I got up 0-2 on, I’m going to bury a slider (in the dirt) to prove to myself that I can,” he said. “Then I didn’t.”

He left the 0-2 slider down and in, right in Realmuto’s happy zone. That ball traveled 411 feet over the wall in left.

“That pitch was hard and it was sharp,” Alexander said. “It just wasn’t in the right spot. It definitely wasn’t the right pitch, either. But if there was ever a time to work on it, it’s then.”

The slider can be an important tool for him against left-handed hitters. Lefties did more damage against him than usual last season, hitting .260 (30 points higher than his career numbers), slugging .430 with four home runs.

In his career, Alexander has allowed eight homers to lefties in 295 plate appearances. Four of those were hit last season.

The few sliders he threw last year were effective. He threw 108 of them to lefties. They were 4-for-27 against it.

The velocity on the pitch last season was 77 mph. The three he threw Friday were 80 mph.

Baby steps.

Slider aside, though, Alexander was very good against the Phillies. His four-seam fastball hit 91 mph and sat at 90, which has been another point of emphasis for him this spring. His elite cutter got four swings and misses in nine swings with two called strikes. His changeup got three whiffs on five swings.

“I felt in control and I was up to 91, which is good,” Alexander said. “The slider, though. It’s my fourth best pitch and it used to be good. I’m just trying to find a harder, sharper, swing-and-miss breaking ball, something different than my cutter.”

 Twitter@cmccosky

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