Detroit Tigers won’t win games without throwing strikes. It starts with starting pitchers

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers talked about it all offseason.

They kept talking about it all spring training.

And they’re still talking about it.

“You can’t win without throwing strikes,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Sunday morning. “You can’t win if you continually swing at non-strikes. It’s directly correlated to how successful you’re going to be as a team. That is fact.”

The Tigers’ pitching staff through eight games ranks 19th in MLB with a 10.1% walk rate and 12th with 50.1% of pitches thrown inside the strike zone. The relief pitchers, despite their struggles at times, have carried the weight in the strike-throwing department, with a 51.9% clip compared to the starting pitchers’ 48.3% mark.

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The best five pitchers at throwing pitches inside the strike zone: reliever Tyler Alexander (58.3% in-zone rate), reliever Jason Foley (56.6%), position player Zach McKinstry (54.5%), reliever Mason Englert (52.6%) and reliever Jose Cisnero (52.5%).

None of those are starters.

Among 14 Tigers pitchers, the five starters are Matt Manning (who ranks sixth with a 51.7% in-zone rate), Eduardo Rodriguez (eighth with 50.3%), Matthew Boyd (ninth with 48.7%), Spencer Turnbull (10th with 46.7%) and Joey Wentz (12th with 44.5%).

Relievers have inherited too many runners from starters (20), and too many of those runners have scored (12).

“The players will continue to know it, to feel it, to hear it,” Hinch said. “As an organization, we continue to harp on it at all levels, and it’ll be really important. You see the ugly side of games when you’re the team that’s not controlling the strike zone. It’s not an effort thing. It’s not a knowledge thing. It’s not like anybody is defiant and fighting back against that. It’s an execution thing.”

It’s easy to point to the relievers due to a lack of power arms in the bullpen, but the starters deserve the blame for the lopsided scores. The Tigers possess a minus-32 run differential.

Both groups of pitchers have tossed 35 innings this season.

The starters have 19 walks and 20 strikeouts.

The relievers have 13 walks and 26 strikeouts.

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Tigers starters in all eight games failed to provided a clean runway for the relievers. In every game, a fresh reliever has been called upon to take over for a laboring starter in the middle of an inning.

Many times, it has happened because of too many walks.

What happened Saturday in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox was the perfect example, as Wentz walked four batters — including three in a row and two with the bases loaded — before Hinch took him out of the game with two outs. Right-handed reliever Garrett Hill inherited the bases loaded and surrendered a grand slam to Rafael Devers in a 14-5 loss.

“Our bad games so far this season have been largely interpreted to the lack of controlling the strike zone on both sides,” Hinch said. “Again, we’re not trying to be right, we’re trying to be better. That’s the key.”

Coming soon

Right-hander Michael Lorenzen, recovering from a left groin strain in spring training, pitched for Triple-A Toledo on Saturday as part of his rehab assignment. The 31-year-old allowed four runs on two hits and three walks with two strikeouts across 2⅓ innings.

He tossed 31 of 56 pitches for strikes.

“Obviously, the strike throwing wasn’t perfect, specifically in the last inning,” Hinch said. “But he felt great. His stuff was OK. He felt like he got a pretty good workout in and feels ready.”

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After Saturday’s loss, Hinch talked to Lorenzen and Toledo manager Anthony Iapoce. Those conversations led to Lorenzen returning to Detroit on Sunday to meet with the Tigers’ medical staff, including head athletic trainer Ryne Eubanks.

“Our hope is his next outing will be in the big leagues,” Hinch said. “We got to make sure everything checks out today.”

He will likely pitch against the San Francisco Giants, in town from Friday through Sunday, at Comerica Park. The Tigers have set their rotation for the upcoming three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre: Manning on Tuesday, Rodriguez on Wednesday and Turnbull on Thursday.

Lorenzen last season logged a 4.24 ERA with 44 walks and 85 strikeouts across 97⅔ innings in 18 starts for the Los Angeles Angels. It was his first full season as a starter since 2015. He signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Tigers in the offseason.

Adding an arm?

The Tigers exhausted Hill (43 pitches) and Alexander (48 pitches), two of their three long relievers, in Saturday’s loss and could promote a reliever from Triple-A Toledo before their series in Toronto.

Monday is an off day.

“First off, I’d like the arms that are here to throw strikes,” Hinch said. “That in itself would put us in a step forward. … We’ll look at everything along the way, but the most important thing that we need is to control the strike zone and throw strikes. That will put us in a better position more than adding an arm.”

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

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