Reliever Wingenter’s long road back gets pit stop for Tigers’ doubleheader

Detroit News

Detroit — Nobody should ever doubt Trey Wingenter’s resiliency, his toughness or his fight level.

He spent the better part of three years coming back from two surgeries — back and elbow — finally getting back to the big league with the Tigers in April. Six outings into the season, he was back in rehab, trying to work through persistent inflammation and tightness in his right shoulder.

More than three months later, the 6-foot-7 right-handed reliever was, at least for a day, back in the Tigers’ clubhouse serving as the 27th man for Game 2 of the doubleheader Thursday against the Angels.

“It’s been a battle,” Wingenter said. “But not in a negative way. It’s kind of what you expect after not playing for three years. I had to address some things, some mechanics, some shoulder stuff, clean some stuff up, re-learn some things.

“But I’m feeling good now and happy to be up here.”

He last pitched for the Tigers on April 15. He didn’t throw another pitch in competition until June 10, when he began his rehab assignment at Low-A Lakeland. It took him another three weeks to even approach his regular form on the mound.

He took some beatings but his spirit never waned. He’d endured worse.

“When the last three injuries have been worst-case scenarios (surgical fixes), this one being not the worst-case scenario (rehab), was a huge relief,” Wingenter said. “It took a little longer than you want it to or that I expected it to.

“But I think some of the changes I made are going to help me from here on out.”

The mechanical changes were mostly with his lower body. They have helped him take some of the strain off his shoulder when he throws. But pitching in Triple-A with Toledo, and with the International League using the ABS (automated balls and strikes) system has also been invaluable for him.

Because as AJ Hinch reiterated on Thursday, the difference between Wingenter’s dominant outings and his bad outings comes down to his ability to command the baseball.

“That automated strike zone forces you to be over the plate,” Wingenter said. “Because you’re not getting away with anything there. It was just a good trainer for me. You have to have confidence to go at guys over the plate, over the small part of the plate.

“That’s what I need anyway.”

Wingenter’s mid-90s fastball and slider are good enough, certainly, to get hitters out inside the zone. But he’s fought the tendency to nibble.

“With the ABS, it’s a true edge-to-edge home-plate strike zone,” he said. “It forces you to be in the strike zone. And it’s stubborn. You aren’t getting anything off the plate.”

Wingenter’s velocity is still climbing. He hasn’t gotten up to full throttle yet. But he’s been dominating Triple-A hitters over the last week or so. In his last four outings, he’s allowed a run and two hits with six strikeouts and two walks, holding hitters to a .143 average.

“Having to go quickly right back to being injured, that was tough at first,” he said. “But I’ve learned going through all these rehabs that you just take it one day at a time. A lot of times, you come out of these rehabs learning some stuff that helps you down the road. I hope I get to that point.

“It’s a grind, still. It’s going to be a grind for the rest of the year — as it is for everybody, whether you’re healthy, not healthy or somewhere in between. But, I have learned some things that I’m excited to apply here.”

Wingenter is expected to be optioned back to Toledo after the game Thursday. But, he has made himself a potential answer to whatever bullpen questions may arise the rest of the season.

Around the horn

The Tigers have listed TBD for the start on Saturday in Miami. It could end up being a bullpen game. Or, left-hander Joey Wentz could be called up from Toledo to get a spot start. The Tigers have off days scheduled before and after the two-game series in Pittsburgh next week, which could make a bullpen game more feasible.

On deck: Marlins

Series: Three games at LoanDepot Park, Miami

First pitch: Friday — 6:40 p.m.; Saturday — 4:10 p.m.; Sunday — 1:40 p.m.

TV/radio: All games on BSD/97.1, 1270

Probables: Friday — RHP Reese Olson (1-4, 4.53) vs. LHP Braxton Garrett (5-3, 4.32); Saturday — TBA vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (0-1, 4.50); Sunday — LHP Tarik Skubal (1-1, 3.71) vs. LHP Jesus Luzardo (8-5, 3.22)

Olson, Tigers: The good news is he doesn’t have to face Juan Soto in this one. Soto hit 910 feet of home runs against him in his last start. Both came on fastballs. Olson’s slider is still doing work. Hitters are 9-for-60 against it, with 21 strikeouts and a 43% whiff rate. Overall, Olson is limiting hitters to a .226 average and a .268 on-base percentage. His WHIP is just over 1 (1.099).

Garrett, Marlins: He’s had a rough month. In four July starts, he’s allowed 16 runs in 18⅓ innings, with opponents hitting .325, slugging .625 with a bulky .982 OPS. He has six pitches, but he relies mostly on his sinker (90 mph), slider and cutter. The slider is his best pitch, holding hitters to a .183 average with a 44% whiff rate.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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