Michael Lorenzen used to throw seven pitches.
Now, he throws five pitches.
In the offseason, Lorenzen became a free agent and searched for a new team with a specific criterion. The 31-year-old, who has bounced between starting and relieving in his nine-year career in the big leagues, had one goal: to improve as a starting pitcher.
“That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m a Detroit Tiger,” Lorenzen said after his seven-inning, one-run performance in Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. “I’m happy with the way I’m feeling and the way we were able to simplify it. Obviously, the results have been good.”
The changes started in September 2022, when Lorenzen — as a member of the Los Angeles Angels — raised his arm slot to a natural position in his return from a shoulder strain. The mechanical change separated his four-seamer from his changeup and created consistent slider movement.
He posted a 2.36 ERA in his final five starts of the 2022 season.
“He can get outs in different ways, not being obsessed necessarily with only missing bats, because he can generate soft contact,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He can stay in games a little bit longer. The swing and misses are still coming. They’re improving a little bit. But I think chasing one singular result got him off track a little bit early, and now, he’s really settling in.”
The Tigers helped Lorenzen take the next step by simplifying his pitch mix. Through five starts, he has primarily relied on four pitches: four-seam fastballs (32.7%), changeup (22.2%), slider (17.9%), sinker (13.8%).
His other three pitches — sweeper (6.3%), cutter (4.3%) and curveball (2.7%) — aren’t used as often anymore. Last season, Lorenzen threw more sinkers than four-seamers and more sweepers than sliders.
“My (arm) slot is higher, so it’s better for four-seamers,” Lorenzen said. “And then the bullet slider is something I developed with four starts left in the season last year. That’s a pitch I used to have back in 2016, and it was a really good pitch for me, and then I lost it. That was the slider I’ve always thrown, but I had to develop the sweeper because I lost the bullet slider. So now, just seeing the results of how much I’m able to land it in the strike zone, it’s like, I need to throw this one more.”
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In 2023, Lorenzen has a 4.18 ERA with seven walks and 19 strikeouts in 28 innings. He allowed one run across seven innings in back-to-back starts against the New York Mets (May 3) and Guardians (May 9).
He posted a 1.29 ERA with two walks and four strikeouts in 14 innings across his past two starts. He threw 74% strikes in his past two starts compared to 65% strikes in his first three starts.
Lorenzen is coming off the best back-to-back starts in his career.
“It’s really encouraging,” Lorenzen said. “I’m just staying in my lanes. That’s all I’m trying to do, just stay out of my own way and stay in those lanes. Don’t tell me just to tell me, back it up with data, and that’s what they’re good at here. If you can show me the data, I can buy into that and trust that.”
The Tigers, led by new president of baseball operations Scott Harris, examined Lorenzen as a free agent, signed him to a one-year contract and executed their plan to help him improve. It wasn’t easy, but both Lorenzen and the Tigers seem to be headed in the right direction.
That’s a big win for the Harris regime.
“He’s going to attack everything and leave no stone unturned,” Hinch said of Lorenzen. “He’s going to really challenge you to come up with a good plan for him and a reason behind it, so he sharped us a little bit and we’ve sharpened him. The results in the last couple games have been very encouraging. It’s been simplified, but it doesn’t make it less of an attack.”
Hinch also gave credit to pitching coach Chris Fetter and assistant pitching coach Robin Lund. He tipped his cap to the entire advance scouting team, too. Many voices within the organization joined forces, played a part in the process and, ultimately, delivered a unified message.
Before Tuesday’s start, Lorenzen watched video of all 361 changeups he threw in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He tweaked his mechanics and relied heavily on his changeup to pitch seven innings of one-run ball against the Guardians.
His changeup generated seven of his 13 whiffs.
“I was staying behind the baseball,” Lorenzen said. “The guys (pitching coaches) here told me, ‘It’s the sell.’ It looks like I’m throwing it as hard as my fastball, and the hitters don’t pick up the spin. It’s not the movement, it’s the sell. I just tried to stay behind it and throw it like my fastball, and I knew instantly. I’ve been looking for that (feeling) for a really long time.”
That’s an example of how the Tigers have helped Lorenzen, and how they view player development in the big picture under Harris’ leadership —often through simplification.
Lorenzen can’t wait to continue his development.
“I think I’ve overlooked the importance of eliminating a couple good weapons, or eliminating a couple weapons, to make my other weapons better,” Lorenzen said. “But I guess I didn’t know which ones I would eliminate, and which ones are better and why they are better.”