Michael Lorenzen, who gives credit to Detroit Tigers, pitches in first All-Star Game

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers right-hander Michael Lorenzen wasn’t supposed to pitch for the American League in the seventh inning of the All-Star Game.

A lower back injury to Jordan Romano, the Toronto Blue Jays’ closer, sent American League manager Dusty Baker scrambling for a new pitcher with one out in the seventh. Lorenzen, in his first All-Star appearance, came out of the bullpen and protected a 2-1 lead in Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.

The National League won, 3-2, for the first time since 2012. Baltimore’s Félix Bautista, who relieved Lorenzen in the eighth inning, allowed a two-run home run to another unlikely All-Star, Colorado’s Elias Díaz.

Even with the sudden notice Tuesday, it was a moment Lorenzen was amped up about.

“Right when I found out, it hit me pretty hard,” Lorenzen said July 6, following his final start for the Tigers before the All-Star break. “To me, it was bigger than getting called up to the big leagues. I felt like I always knew I was going to be a Major League Baseball player, but to be a good Major League Baseball player is a different story.”

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Lorenzen, wearing a pair of custom Vans cleats, took over for Romano and inherited a 1-1 count with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at the plate. Gurriel had hit Romero’s previous pitch 395 feet to left field, but the call on the field — solo home run — was overturned after a replay review.

The Arizona Diamondbacks All-Star then hit a fifth-pitch changeup in a 2-2 count in front of home plate. Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman picked up the ball but bounced the throw to Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The play should have been ruled a throwing error or a fielding error.

Instead, it was deemed an infield single.

“I’m proud of the work that he put in,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said July 2, the day Lorenzen was announced as a member of the All-Star team. “I’m proud of him for not being stubborn to change some of his pitch usage. He came here to get better, and he did, and he gets rewarded.”

Lorenzen then walked Diamondbacks shortstop Geraldo Perdomo on six pitchers, throwing four balls in a row after getting ahead 0-2 in the count, to put himself in a jam. A changeup got San Diego’s Juan Soto to pop out to Cleveland Guardians third baseman José Ramírez for the second out.

Pinch-hitter Pete Alonso, who has 26 home runs this season for the New York Mets, replaced Atlanta’s Matt Olson. Lorenzen fell behind 2-0 in the count, but he bounced back with three strikes in a row — a 94.5 mph four-seam fastball (called strike), a 83.3 mph changeup (called strike) and a 84.2 mph changeup (swinging strike) — for an inning-ending strikeout, stranding runners on first and second base. Lorenzen was credited with a hold before Bautista gave up Díaz’s blast.

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The Tigers’ lone All-Star representative came into the break with a 4.03 ERA, 20 walks and 66 strikeouts across 87 innings in 15 starts. Lorenzen signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Tigers in the offseason, so he is a candidate to be traded at the Aug. 1 deadline.

The 31-year-old tossed five scoreless innings with four strikeouts July 6 in a 9-0 win against the Oakland Athletics. Before that, he had a 6.28 ERA in his previous five starts with the Tigers losing all five of those games.

“This organization has done a great job with me,” Lorenzen said, “and helping me get to where I am.”

Lorenzen, a nine-year MLB veteran, credits the Tigers for his first-ever All-Star appearance. He has seven pitches in his bag of tricks, but the Tigers helped he realize he needed to limit his pitch mix to four offerings: four-seam fastball, slider, changeup and sinker.

He loves digging into the data.

“I think I’ve overlooked the importance of eliminating a couple weapons to make my other weapons better,” Lorenzen said May 11, amid an eight-start stretch with a 2.37 ERA. “But I guess I didn’t know which ones I would eliminate, and which ones are better and why they are better.”

Lorenzen has thrown his four-seam fastball 33.6% of the time for his highest four-seam usage since his 2015 rookie campaign. His four-seamer has a run value of minus-10, which is tied for the 11th-best four-seamer in baseball.

Lorenzen has thrown his bullet slider 23.4% of the time, more than ever before in his career, while his changeup remains his primary secondary pitch against left-handed hitters. His slider has a run value of minus-6, tied for the 26th-best slider.

“Cleaned up my pitch profile,” Lorenzen said. “Cleaned up a selection of pitch usage for when to use certain things in different counts, refining that and getting better at that. They’ve done a really good job of keeping me in line. I like to work. I like to put in the hours. If I get bored, you’ll see me go out there throwing left-handed. They’ve been able to keep me in line and keep me on track.”

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The Tigers knew Lorenzen, who spent most of his 328-game big-league career as a reliever, could improve as a starting pitcher when the organization signed him to a one-year contract in the offseason.

President of baseball operations Scott Harris believed he had the tools to uncover the best version.

Stepping on the mound Tuesday in an unexpected situation in the All-Star Game — and escaping a jam by striking out Alonso — was the culmination of hard work behind the scenes, from both Lorenzen and the Tigers.

“It’s taken me nine seasons,” he said.

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

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