Detroit — It got a bit lost in the hubbub of the Tigers’ fourth-inning knockout of Max Scherzer and their doubleheader sweep of the mighty Mets Wednesday night, but Michael Lorenzen spun by far his best start of the season and the way he went about it could be a precursor of more success ahead.
“It’s no secret the reason I signed here was that I felt like this organization had answers for me,” said Lorenzen, who signed a one-year deal this offseason for $8.5 million. “So I’ve been listening to the plan they have for me and I am following the plan.”
Lorenzen came to the Tigers armed with a seven-pitch arsenal. But against the Mets, he pared it down to essentially three. He threw 48 four-seam fastballs, 30 sliders and 17 changeups, with a sprinkling of sinkers and sweepers.
And, even though he got very few swings and misses (six), he deftly kept the potent Mets’ hitters off balance for seven strong innings, allowing a run and four hits.
“In general, it’s easier for a pitcher to execute when you simplify his mix,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to take away weapons if they are truly weapons. Every pitch interacts with another pitch. The timing in which you throw them, who you throw them to, how often do you double up — sometimes you can have too many choices.
“With Michael, his plus pitches are so plus, he doesn’t have to complicate them by overusing other pitches.”
It’s not always easy for a pitcher, especially a veteran pitcher like Lorenzen, to leave some of his bullets in the holster, so to speak. There’s a pride that comes with developing that many big-league worthy pitches and they’ve all served him well over the years.
But Lorenzen has bought in.
“It wasn’t tough,” Lorenzen said. “I just want to be good at my job and help the team win. I trust the guys we have here.”
Still, it’s taken a few starts for Lorenzen to take a reduced pitch mix into a start.
“I like to know the reasoning behind what we’re doing,” he said. “Just so I have a better understanding and I can trust it more. They’ve been really good at sharing their reasoning and it makes it so much easier for me to trust.”
Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter and assistant pitching coaches Juan Nieves and Robin Lund, as well as the club’s analytics staff, have been united in wanting Lorenzen to simplify his mix.
“It’s just a general philosophy about pitching,” Hinch said. “Like, if you have to master six, seven, eight pitches, the chance of all of those working on the same night is pretty small.”
Eric Haase was behind the plate Wednesday and Lorenzen said after the game that he didn’t shake off one sign the entire night.
“It was just that his execution of those two pitches (four-seamer and slider) was really important,” Haase said. “He was getting his fastball to the top of the strike zone and that allowed his off-speed to shine, especially behind in the count. That was big.”
In previous starts, Lorenzen struggled to locate his fastball up in the zone. He’d have to mix cutters and sinkers and curveballs, almost pitching defensively.
“We were getting ahead but not having a way to put guys away or induce weak contact,” Haase said. “We simplified things and attacked with what we know he does best and he was really good.”
Being able to command those three pitches enabled him to be in attack mode. Once ahead in the count, he was getting the Mets to swing at pitches on the edge or out of the strike zone.
“Someone who can manipulate the baseball like he can, the pitches he has are good from an analytic standpoint,” Haase said. “But a real-world scenario is drastically different with execution. You want to use pitches that feed off each other in certain situations. If I’m going to get beat, I’m going to get beat with my best two pitches, not my third or fourth best pitch.
“And like I always say, the hitters will let you know what is a good pitch.”