Tigers mulling unique hybrid roles for right-handers Faedo, Brieske and Englert for ’24

Detroit News

Chicago — Let’s look ahead to next season for a minute, specifically at what the Tigers’ 2024 starting rotation might look like.

Certainly the organization is counting on Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Casey Mize to be the foundation. Reese Olson, one of the biggest player development success stories this season, is steadily carving his niche, too.

Eduardo Rodriguez and Spencer Turnbull are question marks.

It’s hard to see a scenario where, or a good reason why, Rodriguez wouldn’t exercise his opt-out this winter. Given the burgeoning market for quality, veteran starters and his stellar season, he could double the $49 million he has remaining on his deal with the Tigers.

The Tigers will have ample payroll flexibility this winter, especially with Miguel Cabrera’s contract coming off the books. But whether president Scott Harris decides to invest close to $100 million on a 31-year-old starting pitcher seems doubtful.

As for Turnbull, well, as has been reported, this relationship seems headed for a divorce. Both sides might benefit from a clean break.

So, for the purposes of this exercise, scratch Rodriguez and Turnbull from the 2024 plans.

Harris will almost certainly look outside the organization for an affordable veteran starting pitcher or two, just as he did last winter when he signed Matthew Boyd ($10 million) and Michael Lorenzen ($8.5 million). The purpose for doing that again would be to provide stability early in the season for a still-young staff and eat innings while Mize’s workload remains limited, while also securing potential trade chips, if needed, at the trade deadline.

The next wave of starters, then, would include Joey Wentz, Sawyer Gipson-Long and Keider Montero. It may also include Alex Faedo, Beau Brieske and Mason Englert.

Both Harris and manager AJ Hinch have said there has been no set-in-stone decision on next season’s role for those last three right-handers.

“You’re going to find that, generally speaking, we’re going to leave open the option of starting for the vast majority of our arms that we feel like can do it and then make a decision as late as possible,” Hinch said. “Yes, we sent Alex to the pen for those certain games (in September), but I’m even hesitant to call him a reliever because I don’t know what’s next for him.”

It’s the same with Brieske. He barged into the Tigers’ rotation in 2022 making 15 starts, some of them sensational. He beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles in his second big-league start. He went into Yankees Stadium and produced a quality start (seven strikeouts, two runs in six innings). He blanked the Rangers on three hits over seven innings. He blanked the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on two hits over 6⅓ innings.

His rookie season was stopped short by a nerve issue in his arm. That same issue delayed his start to this season and facilitated his move to the bullpen. And, just as he kicked the door down as a starter, he’s already worked himself into leverage situations out of the bullpen.

“I always feel it’s good to build up to capacity, build up to where you have that length,” Brieske said. “If you build up to be a starter, it’s real easy to transition to shorter stints, if that’s what the plan is. It’s way harder to go the opposite way.

“That’s the way I would approach my training, just in general. Just build to capacity. I just think it’s better for you if you have more in the tank. Just kind of build the gas tank bigger.”

Brieske will likely need to build more volume in the offseason, perhaps even picking up some innings in winter ball. He’s only thrown 37 innings so far, counting his minor league rehab outings.

“We will have the exit interview process to kind of get their thoughts,” Hinch said. “We will weigh in on our off-season goals and what our plans are. They will have an answer by the time they get into the offseason.”

And, quite honestly, the answer could be the same for Brieske, Faedo and Englert as it was coming into this season. They, along with lefty Tyler Alexander, could be used in a hybrid role making spot starts and serving in a bridge reliever role.

“A lot of these guys who we’re putting in the bullpen could be 100-inning pitchers,” Hinch said. “Making some starts, making some relief appearances, pitching bulk innings. Sometimes we put games together a little uniquely. It doesn’t have to be, ‘These are our five guys and they’re going to pitch five to seven innings and we go on to the next one.’

“We can be more strategic with the strength of our pitching depth.”

Faedo, a starter his entire career, is amenable to both roles.

“I just like to think of myself as a baseball player,” he said. “Just do whatever our team needs and what the manager asks and try to do my best.”

Brieske said the same: His only goal is to pitch in the big leagues and help the Tigers win. Whatever it takes.

“Everybody loves the feature role of starting the game and we need to have really good starting pitching,” Hinch said. “But if you’re not in that first five, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be banished to blow-out games or mop-up duty.”

A different look

Lefty Andrew Vasquez, who is on the injured list with tightness in his left calf, has been with the team on this trip, doing his work hours before the game.

There he was on Friday, throwing off flat ground, and, wait … throwing sidearm?

“Yeah, I kind of mix that in,” he said. “I did it at the beginning of the season. I haven’t thrown it like that in a while. Just trying to get the dust off it a little and while I have this time, just rework everything.”

Vasquez isn’t eligible to come off the IL until Sept. 11 and he will certainly need a few rehab outings. But the sidearm delivery, mixed with his regular delivery, could be part of his arsenal when he gets back.

“Honestly, I discovered it because I was working on my arm path and making, like, infield throws,” he said. “I was like, ‘That feels pretty good.’ It felt like a natural slot for me. I decided to try it on the mound. I’ve always kind of had that in my back pocket.”

With the Phillies earlier this season, he was encouraged to use the sidearm delivery but he never fully committed to it during games. But he does have the ability to command both his sinker and slider from the side. He can also change arm angles within an at-bat. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

“I just have to do it,” he said. “Worst-case scenario, it will help me get over the top (his regular delivery) better. I just need to give myself the freedom to do it. I really like it. I just have to make sure I am confident using it in every situation.”

Around the horn

With the 10-0 win over the White Sox Saturday, the Tigers secured a winning record in the Central Division.

They were 27-15 entering play Sunday going 10-2-1 in the 13 intra-divisional series so far. It’s the first time since 2016 they’ve posted a winning season record in the division.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter/X: @cmccosky

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