Trade deadline could throw Tigers’ rotation into a spin — and more second-half storylines

Detroit News

Seattle — As the Tigers commence the second half of the season Friday night at T-Mobile Park, you might want to brace yourself. There’s going to be turbulence.

Roster turbulence.

Among the storylines to look out for:

The ever-evolving, revolving starting rotation

Eduardo Rodriguez, almost certainly, is in his final couple of weeks as a Tiger. Unless team president Scott Harris has forged some clandestine extension deal that he’s waiting to spring on the public in the 11th hour (not likely), Rodriguez and his opt-out clause will be traded before the deadline.

There is a chance that another Tigers starter, All-Star Michael Lorenzen, gets moved, as well.

The hope is Spencer Turnbull (neck) will soon be ready to step into one of those vacancies. He continued his rehab work in Lakeland over the All-Star break and should be ready to start throwing live batting practice and progressing toward his rehab assignment maybe by next week.

And if the Tigers don’t get a big-league-ready starting pitcher back in one of the trades, Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo, both at Triple-A Toledo, would also be in the mix for open spots.

The situation is further clouded by potential workload restrictions on both Tarik Skubal and rookie Reese Olson.

Skubal, of course, is coming off flexor tendon surgery in his left arm. He’s been pitching with a reconstructed ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow since 2018. The Tigers are going to proceed with an overabundance of caution.

As they should.

He threw just four innings in his first two starts back off the injured list. Those starts were five days apart. If the Tigers can avoid it, that will be the last time Skubal pitches on regular rest. At least through this month, with 17 straight games without an off day, the tentative plan is to sprinkle either a bullpen game or a spot start into the mix in order to give him an extra day between starts.

The Tigers will also take full advantage of the three off days in both August and September to give both Skubal and Olson extra rest days. There is a chance, too, they use a six-man rotation for the final few weeks of the season.

And as a postscript to that: It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Casey Mize gets a start or two before the end of the season. It’s still a long shot, of course. He’s 13 months out from Tommy John surgery. But, his bullpens have been impressive and he’s on an encouraging track.

The club won’t accelerate the pace of his program. But, to get him at least a taste of competition before the winter — even if it ends up being in a Triple-A rehab environment — would be huge.

Play the kids?

The clamor to call up top offensive prospects like Colt Keith and Justyn-Henry Malloy is understandable and, possibly, warranted.

But here’s the rub: Play the kids, yes, absolutely. The Tigers have been playing the kids all season. Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, Zach McKinstry, Akil Baddoo, Kerry Carpenter, Zack Short, Andy Ibanez — either by age or relative big-league experience, they’re all kids. They are all still finding their path at this level.

The Tigers parted ways with two popular veterans before the break — Jonathan Schoop and Jake Marisnick — so as not to take playing time and opportunity away from younger players. There aren’t any other veteran players to clear out. (Miguel Cabrera, as a mostly part-time designated hitter, and one of the club’s leading hitters since the end of May, isn’t blocking anyone’s opportunity.)

It’s young-on-young now. As Keith and Malloy — and possibly Parker Meadows, too — keep banging on the big-league door, it’s up to Baddoo, Carpenter, Ibanez, Short, McKinstry and Maton to stave them off.

It’s going to create some roster tension. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Competition is healthy.

What to do about Haase?

On May 8, catcher Eric Haase was hitting .293. He’d only hit two home runs, but he was driving the ball. It seemed only a matter of time before he started launching balls into the seats. Not so much. He’s hit .143 since then, with just one homer and almost no slug (.206).

It’s been beyond frustrating for him and mystifying for the coaching staff. Manager AJ Hinch had a long talk with Haase at his locker after the Tigers’ 10th-inning loss to Toronto on Sunday. It looked, from a distance, like a pep talk.

With outfielders Greene and Baddoo back off the IL, Haase isn’t expected to play much in the outfield in the second half. He had been getting starts in left field against left-handed starters. Hinch can deploy right-handed hitters Vierling or Ibanez out there now if he wants. He also wants to give left-handed hitting Carpenter more at-bats against lefties.

So, that leaves Haase as the backup catcher behind Jake Rogers and a right-handed bat off the bench. He could conceivably hit himself back into more playing time, but it’s going to be tough for him to catch a rhythm without regular at-bats.

Haase is out of minor-league options, so sending him back to Toledo for a reset isn’t happening. And the Tigers aren’t likely to give up on him. He can still salvage this season. Don’t underestimate his mental toughness. He grinded eight years in the Cleveland system before he got his first big-league cup of coffee. He spent most of 2020 at the alt site and on the Tigers’ taxi squad.

He is 30 years old and still isn’t eligible for arbitration.

He’s fought for every scrap he’s gotten in this game. He’s not about to stop fighting now.

On deck: Mariners

Series: Three games at T-Mobile Park

First pitch: Friday – 10:10 p.m., Saturday – 9:40 p.m; Sunday – 4:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Friday-Sunday — Bally Sports Detroit, 97.1.

Probables: Friday – LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (4-5, 2.64) vs. TBA; Saturday – RHP Michael Lorenzen (3-6, 4.03) vs. TBA; Sunday – RHP Reese Olson (1-2, 4.05) vs. TBA.

Rodriguez, Tigers: The sad reality of it is, his next couple of starts are essentially showcase outings. Because he is virtually assured of exercising the opt-out in his contract this offseason, the Tigers have little choice but to entertain trade offers ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline. Rodriguez is expected to be at or near the top of the market for starting pitchers.

TBA, Mariners: The Mariners had not declared their starting pitchers for this series as of Thursday.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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