Tigers, AJ Hinch mulling possibly moving Alex Lange out of high-leverage spots temporarily

Detroit News

Detroit — As he often does, AJ Hinch anticipated the question.

“I actually thought I would get that question yesterday,” he said.

The question: With Alex Lange’s recent control issues, will he be used in some lesser-leverage situations while he works through them?

The answer, also as it usually is, isn’t that simple.

“Of course, we’re going to look at different scenarios to get to the finish line if we need to,” Hinch said. “But hopefully the frustration that came out of yesterday for him will fuel him to bounce out of it.”

With a two-run lead Saturday in the ninth inning, Lange walked three of the four hitters he faced. He threw 20 pitches and six were strikes. Of the six strikes, only three were actually in the strike zone. The outing before in Pittsburgh, protecting a four-run lead in the ninth, he also walked three hitters, including one with the bases loaded.

Of the 49 pitches he threw in those two games, 17 were strikes. He walked six of the 10 batters he faced and he was unable to finish either inning.

“I think we have to continue to work through the issue and he knows that more than anyone,” Hinch said. “There’s always consideration as to how to do it. … We’re going to have to consider all of our options. Regardless of what inning Alex pitches, strikes have to increase for him to stay effective and to stay in leverage (situations).

“We’re going to continue to push him and work with him.”

The reality is, there are no soft landings for any player who is struggling, pitcher or otherwise. Especially not at the big-league level. So, removing Lange from the ninth inning doesn’t solve the problem.

“I understand leverage a ton, but I don’t think I’ve handed a ball to a reliever in a game where it ever feels unimportant,” Hinch said. “He’s going to have to get inside the strike zone in that situation, too. Bringing him in medium leverage in the sixth and he walks three guys the way he is now, I’m going to get questions as to why I didn’t go with someone else.”

It’s been a rough stretch for Lange, for sure. Going back to June 4, the day he gave up the game-winning grand slam to Jake Burger of the White Sox, he’s given up 16 earned runs in 19.2 innings with 23 walks and 22 strikeouts.

Hinch was asked if there was more to Lange’s struggles than just his mechanics being out of whack.

“There is certainly a mental component to it,” Hinch said. “Because he carries the burden of the last three outs most of the time that he pitches. So he feels like he lets down a lot of people when it doesn’t go well.”

When the frustrations and rough outings pile up, it can crack even the strongest-minded players.

“Alex is really good at getting himself to the next day and getting himself refocused on what he needs to do,” Hinch said. “That’s never a problem. The preparation, that’s never a problem. The care factor, never a problem. And accountability is never a problem.

“You carry all that with you and it’s never easy to struggle. The mechanics that lead to ball one, ball two, ball three and ball four, that taxes you mentally and you have to overcome it. It’s tough, but that’s the life of a reliever sometimes.”

Hinch, frankly, isn’t exactly sure how this will ultimately work itself out.

“The reason I’m staying non-committal is because I want to read the games as they come and go with the best direction we can,” he said. “Maybe that’s part of the reason I generally don’t love naming things (like closers and set-up men). So when you make a slight alteration here or there, for whatever purpose, it’s easier.”

Another career first

It was lefty Tyler Holton who rescued Lange and the Tigers’ in Pittsburgh, punching out Ke’Bryan Hayes to earn his first career save. On Saturday night, Beau Brieske got the hurry-up call.

Not only was it his first save opportunity, it was the first time he’d pitched in back-to-back games in the big leagues, coming off a long stint on the injured list. He’d thrown 24 pitches in a high-stress inning Friday night.

“It was just, boom, let’s go,” Brieske said. “It was a quick warmup, like two batters. One of the quickest warmups I’ve had. But I was ready to go. Straight adrenaline. No nerves.”

Against former Tiger Isaac Paredes, who represented the go-ahead run. Brieske struck him out in four pitches. He got ahead 1-2 with three straight 97-mph two-seam fastballs that were darting in on Paredes. Then he beat him with a 96-mph four-seam that rode high and out of the zone.

“I just wanted to be as aggressive as possible,” Brieske said. “I thought he was going to try to cheat to get to it so I wanted to be aggressive with my best stuff and attack. I didn’t want to risk leaving something up or allow him to hook something down the line.

“I knew if I got the sinker in, he’d have a hard time keeping it fair.”

Rotation plans

The Tigers are going to give Tarik Skubal an extra day of rest before his next start. Skubal, coming off flexor tendon surgery, threw a season-high 88 pitches in his win Saturday.

“I told Tarik, we’re just going to be crazy disciplined with him to the point of frustrating everybody except for those of us making the decisions,” Hinch said. “We’re going to give him extra rest. He may have a start on regular rest at some point but generally we’re going to slide somebody in there or an off day is going to help or we can do a bullpen game.

“We are going to stay cognizant of the fact that he’s coming back from something that is hard to come back from.”

The Tigers are listing TBA for the game Wednesday against the Twins. That would be Skubal’s turn in the rotation on regular rest. Instead, it’s likely that right-hander Alex Faedo is summoned from Toledo for another spot start.

Around the horn

Javier Báez (death in the family) was scratched from the lineup for a second straight day. Hinch said he would be in the dugout and available to pinch-hit if needed Sunday. Eventually, possibly as soon as Monday, he will be leave the team and be placed on the bereavement list, which is a three-to-seven day unpaid leave of absence.

Spencer Turnbull, who pitched 3.1 innings and threw 56 pitches in his third rehab start Friday night, is expected to make his next start at Toledo either Wednesday or Thursday. “Getting his secondary pitches in the zone is going to be really important,” Hinch said. “He hasn’t had that yet. The increase in his velocity has been solid (92-94 mph). He’s holding his stuff very good. But command in the zone is very important for him in the next start.”

On deck: Minnesota Twins

▶ Series: Four games at Comerica Park, Detroit

▶ First pitch: Monday-Wednesday — 6:40 p.m.; Thursday — 1:10 p.m.

▶ TV/radio: All games are on Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM,1270 AM

▶ Probables: Monday — RHP Pablo Lopez (6-6, 4.01) vs. LHP Joey Wentz (2-9, 6.37); Tuesday — RHP Sonny Gray (5-4, 3.18) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (7-5, 2.96); Wednesday — RHP Bailey Ober (6-5, 3.21) vs. TBA; Thursday — RHP Kenta Maeda (3-6, 4.22) vs. RHP Reese Olson 1-5, 4.94).

Scouting report

▶ Lopez, Twins: Swapping his cutter for a sweeper has been a game-changer for him. He’s holding hitters to a .175 average with it, with a 34.3% whiff rate. He throws it off a long-extension (7 feet, 2 inches), 95-mph four-seam and pairs it with a changeup. Nasty. Over his last three starts he’s allowed just five runs in 18 innings with 20 strikeouts and three walks.

▶ Wentz, Tigers: There is a chance the Tigers use an opener ahead of Wentz, like they did in his last outing. Which was a dandy. Wentz entered in the third inning and struck out six over 4.2 scoreless innings against the Marlins. He was spotting his fastball and, more importantly, landing all his secondary pitches to keep the Miami hitters off balance.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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