Wentz K’s career-high 9, takes big step forward

Detroit Tigers

MINNEAPOLIS — Tigers manager A.J. Hinch was noncommittal on whether he’d use an opener in front of Joey Wentz as recently as Friday night, hours before Wentz was scheduled to take the mound against the Twins at Target Field. He clearly needed innings from the lefty between two bullpen games, but the top of the Twins lineup worried him.

As Wentz sent down Carlos Correa flailing at a changeup on his 107th and final pitch to end the sixth inning with his career-high ninth strikeout, he’d made his statement. The top third of the Twins order, the segment Hinch would’ve used an opener to combat, went 0-for-9 with four strikeouts against Wentz.

Ironically, Wentz had to take a tough 2-0 loss on a Saturday afternoon that saw the Twins use an opener and five more pitchers who combined to hold Detroit to three hits, facing just one batter over the minimum. But in the big picture, this was a step forward, possibly a major one if he can follow it up against this same team next weekend at Comerica Park.

“Obviously it takes some success for guys to get back into rhythm and feel good about it,” Hinch said. “I know he’s going to be upset because the team didn’t win. But for us, if we get this type of outing from Joey, we’re going to be really happy.”

When Wentz is pitching like this — mixing pitches, staying unpredictable in counts, spotting multiple pitches on the edges of the strike zone and pitching with confidence — he doesn’t need an opener. When Wentz is pitching like this, he shouldn’t need to look over his shoulder and worry about rotation decisions looming whenever Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning return from rehab assignments. This is the Wentz that opened eyes after joining the Tigers system from the Braves in the Shane Greene trade, staking his claim in a Double-A Erie rotation that included Skubal, Manning, Casey Mize and Alex Faedo.

After leaning on his cutter, an effective pitch, for a stretch this season, Wentz had to get away from it.

“Going into the game on the scouting report, they had some guys who handle the cutter pretty well,” Wentz said. “Still threw a couple of them, but I knew going in that the curveball and changeup were going to be big. Certainly when it’s already in our head before the game, it makes it a little easier, and I was able to throw some quality pitches in there.”

Wentz’s 107 pitches Saturday included just 11 cutters, his lowest total of the season on a day when he threw the most pitches of his brief MLB career. He threw 22 curveballs, 33 changeups and 41 fastballs. Compared to many starts this season, when fastballs and cutters would comprise nearly three-quarters of his pitches, they took up less than half of his pitch count this time.

With that mix, he had nearly as many called strikes (13) as swinging ones (14). His changeup drew five called strikes, three of them for strikeouts, two of them on full counts. He flipped curveballs for back-to-back strikeouts in the second inning, including one on the outside corner for a called third strike to Royce Lewis — one of four strike calls he coaxed on curves. He still went to the cutter on a couple 3-2 counts for strikeouts.

“I thought everything was pretty good today,” Wentz added. “I thought I was able to make some good 3-2 pitches, a couple big 3-2 changeups that were in the zone that were takes. Other than that, just trying to make quality pitches. Everything felt pretty good.”

Added Hinch: “He used his stuff great. He was locked in on the strike zone, locked in multiple pitches, did a really good job of attacking their lineup.”

The Twins struggled to adjust. Wentz retired his first 13 batters before Lewis battled him for eight pitches, forcing a 3-2 fastball high and out of the zone for a one-out walk. Former Tiger Willi Castro and Alex Kirilloff made Wentz pay for back-to-back cutters over the middle of the plate with a pair of ground-ball singles, scoring one run and setting up another on a fielder’s choice.

Zack Short’s diving stop on Ryan Jeffers’ sharp grounder down the third-base line prevented further damage, but that was all Minnesota needed, dropping Wentz to 1-7 for the season. Yet for Wentz’s future, this was a much-needed victory, one he’ll hope to follow his next time out.

Articles You May Like

Brewers 5, Tigers 4: Mize struggles again
Pennsylvania Lottery Online Plays
Brewers vs. Tigers Game Highlights (6/9/24) | MLB Highlights
Brewers vs. Tigers Game Highlights (6/8/24) | MLB Highlights
Series Preview: Detroit Tigers host Washington Nationals for 3-game weekday set

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *