Next step in process for Tigers’ Michael Lorenzen: turning foul balls into whiffs

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Talk about getting your work in.

Tigers right-hander Michael Lorenzen’s day Tuesday started with an eight-pitch at-bat against Raimel Tapia of the Red Sox — which ended in a home run to right field off a 3-2 changeup — and then an 11-pitch at-bat against rookie Triston Casas.

“It’s taxing,” said Lorenzen, who ended up throwing 69 pitches to 13 batters — with 26 of those pitches getting fouled off — pitching in four different innings and getting eight outs in the Tigers’ 6-2 spring win over the Red Sox at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The Casas at-bat was epic. Lorenzen fell behind 2-0 and then Casas fouled off six straight pitches. Working the count full with two more cutters, Casas then banged a changeup into right field for a single.

The sequence of pitches was: cutter, cutter, fastball, changeup, fastball, changeup, fastball, fastball, cutter, cutter, changeup. He ended up throwing 25 pitches in that first inning, getting just one out, when manager AJ Hinch took him out temporarily to let him reset.

“They put up good at-bats and that’s why we had to go get him in that first inning,” Hinch said. “All in all, though, he kept going inside the strike zone.”

Part of the mission this spring for the Tigers and Lorenzen is to get him and keep him in the strike zone. He had a 10.7% walk rate last season. With his seven-pitch mix, he can get real stingy when he’s ahead in counts — as evidenced by his .533 OPS against when he was ahead last season vs. .780 OPS against when he fell behind.

“He’s got to get into leverage,” Hinch said. “More first-pitch strikes would put him in such a good position to use his other weapons. Too many walks. That’s been his Achilles heel.”

After walking three hitters in 2.2 innings in his previous start against the Pirates in Bradenton, he didn’t walk anybody Tuesday, despite all the foul balls and long counts.

“Yeah, I liked the way I handled it today,” Lorenzen said. “Even though I’m getting deeper in counts, you don’t see the 3-2 to walks. That tells me I’m a little better conditioned and I was able to execute a little deeper in counts.

“I had a little more in the tank. I was able to make better pitches, even though they were fouling pitches off. It was good. I threw everything. I executed. All the hits I gave up were on executed pitches. My stuff is trending up and I like it.”

The put-away pitches were lacking in the first couple of innings, but that can be corrected with more game planning and sequencing. None of that can help, though, if he’s not getting ahead in counts and dominating the strike zone.

“First-pitch strikes are important, but after the first three pitches, more often than not, I was 1-2,” Lorenzen said. “AJ and I have had this conversation. It’s more so getting from 1-2 to 1-3 (and getting the out). For me, that’s more important than anything.”

Of the 13 batters he faced, Lorenzen got to either 1-2 or 2-2 on nine of them. He threw first-pitch strikes to seven hitters. And even though he had a lot of long at-bats, he only went to three balls twice, the first two hitters he faced.

“I don’t think there is any wildness in there,” he said. “If you look at the at-bats, I’m getting to 1-2 really quick and I’m getting some foul balls and then I have to expand the zone a little more. It’s not like I’m going 2-0, 3-0 on a lot of guys.”

Lorenzen said he will do a little more game-planning and sequencing in his final couple of starts in the spring. In the meantime, he said, he will get to work on turning some of those foul balls into swings and misses.

“We will look into everything,” he said. “That’s why I signed here. The front office and the analytics people are top-notch. We’ll do a deep dive now that I feel good physically. I went out for the fourth inning today and I felt good. Now that I’m there, we can see how I trended last year — we’ll figure it out.”

About Eduardo

Tigers lefty Eduardo Rodriguez got the start in Team Venezuela’s WBC win over Nicaragua on Tuesday. He threw 52 pitches and gave up seven hits in two innings but allowed only one run.

Venezuelan manager Omar Lopez told reporters after the game that he would ask the Tigers if Rodriguez would be available to pitch again Tuesday if the team makes it to the WBC finale. Hinch, though, said the agreement he made with Lopez was for Rodriguez to pitch in just one game.

Rodriguez, Hinch said, will make his next start for the Tigers next Sunday against the Nationals in West Palm Beach. That would preclude him from pitching Tuesday.

“We have an agreement,” Hinch said. “If Venezuela’s still there, (Rodriguez) certainly can go back and support that team. But he’s going to pitch once.”

Game bits

The Tigers were rescued by the minor-league campers in this one. Down 2-1 in the eighth, Jake Holton delivered a two-run single on a 3-0 pitch to put the Tigers ahead. Colt Keith followed with an RBI knock and later scored on a heads-up piece of base running. On a long sacrifice fly to left by Luis Garcia, Keith saw that second base was uncovered and broke for the bag. The throw he drew ended up in the outfield and he scored on the play.

…Catcher Jake Rogers, who is back after recovering from Tommy John surgery, threw out two runners in the fourth inning. First he threw behind the runner at first base, nabbing Ronaldo Hernandez, who had strayed too far on a missed bunt attempt. A couple of pitches later, he threw out Greg Allen trying to steal second. “He’s the same as he was prior to the injury on defense,” Hinch said. “He’s doing things very instinctually and not holding back at all.”

… Right-hander Edwin Uceta, fighting for a bullpen spot, had his most impressive outing to date, getting four outs. With his deceptive three-quarter throwing motion, his sinker hit 95 mph and sat 92, which made his firm (88 mph) changeup more effective. He got six swings and misses on 13 swings.

… Rule 5 right-hander Mason Englert closed it out, putting up zeros in the eighth and ninth. He walked one and struck out three.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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