New York — This has been a breakout season for Jason Foley.
The right-hander has, in one year, gone from middle-innings, lower-leverage roles to one of manager AJ Hinch’s most trusted leverage relievers, working all but three of his 59⅔ innings in the seventh inning or later.
With 23 games remaining in the season, he’s already matched his career-high 60 games and he’s an inning away from topping his 60⅓ innings from last season. His 97-mph sinker has a run value of plus-17, which ranks in the top 2 percentile in baseball.
He’s made seven saves and 22 holds. He’s allowed just seven of 25 inherited runners to score. Hitters are putting the ball on the ground at a 55% clip against him.
And yet, there’s one more hurdle for him to clear. Left-handed hitters still do a disproportionate amount of damage against him — .306/.362/.506. The only two homers against him came back-to-back in the ninth inning on Aug. 16 at Target Field by Twins lefty swingers Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler.
He responded to that outing by throwing zeros in his last seven appearances covering six innings.
“You can’t let a couple outings derail you from who you are as a pitcher and what your plan of attack is,” Foley said Thursday. “Just trust that you’re going to go back out and execute your stuff and the results will be better.”
Foley is acutely aware that he needs to get better against left-handed hitters. It’s been a work in progress since he debuted with the Tigers in 2021. He’s improved his changeup this season, to the point where he’s throwing it 32% of the time to lefties. But they’re still hitting .333 against it.
“I think from last year to this year, I’ve made some improvements,” said Foley, who admits that he does not look at his splits during the season. “I’ve started to throw more sliders to lefties, just to have a pitch that goes in to them, as opposed to throwing a lot of changeups and sinkers and the hitters are looking for everything away.”
So far, he’s only thrown 29 sliders to lefties, not enough for hitters to honor it. But he’s hit on the crux of the issue: He needs to find something he can use to force lefties to honor the inside quadrants of the plate.
“It’s come and gone a little bit,” Hinch said of Foley’s progress against lefties. “He’s still working on the right sequence. For someone who demonstrates so much arm-side movement (moving away from lefties and in to right-handed hitters), the mistakes against lefties have gotten punished.”
Because those mistakes stay in the middle of the plate against lefties.
“Just being out and over (the plate),” Hinch said. “Not having a carry four-seam fastball (one with ride through the zone), finding something glove-side has been a work in progress.”
The slider could be that pitch. Adding a cutter could be that pitch.
“I don’t know if the answer is adding a new pitch or just trying to sharpen the stuff I’ve got and try to make a better mix,” Foley said. “If I can use the sinker, changeup and slider at a more even split, the hitters will have a tougher time picking up on one or the other.
“I’ve been dumping in more sliders and starting to get good results. I need to get more comfortable with that.”
Being able to control lefties, for Foley, could be the difference between him being a good leverage reliever or a potentially elite one.
“He can get anybody out in the big leagues,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t matter, right-handed or left-handed. But being versatile enough to come up with a pitch that comes inside to a lefty, or even a changeup — which has gotten better than it was earlier in the year and last year — that’ll be the difference in carrying all leverage innings or needing to be matched up a little more against right-handed hitters.”
With right-hander Matt Manning out for the season after suffering another bone fracture in his right foot Wednesday night, the assumption was that Alex Faedo would move back into the rotation.
“Alex’s next outing will be out of the bullpen,” Hinch said.
In the short term, the Tigers called up right-handed reliever Trey Wingenter from Triple-A to add a fresh arm in the bullpen. They have a few days before they have to fill Manning’s rotation spot.
“We will head home (Friday) and have a few days to line it up,” Hinch said. “We have four or five more times through the rotation to deal with and we will see how it plays out. We have some guys we want to take a look at, innings-wise. The order in which they go will be determined in the next three or four days.”
Hinch said the rotation spot could be filled by someone already on the roster (Faedo or possibly Beau Brieske), or somebody who is currently pitching at Triple-A Toledo (potentially Sawyer Gipson-Long, Keider Montero or Jack O’Loughlin).
Or a combination of all the above.
Around the horn
Zack Short had more tests done on his right wrist Thursday and it was not immediately clear whether he will need to be shut down. He got hit in the wrist by a pitch Wednesday that he took a defensive half-swing at. He was called out on the pitch and he stayed in the game. But he went for X-rays after the game and Hinch said he was still hurting Thursday.
… Wingenter, who is on his third stint with the Tigers, has been locked in at Toledo. He’s thrown 7⅓ straight scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts and three walks.
“I’ve just been able to get into a good routine,” said Wingenter, who missed time with a shoulder injury. “The longer I’ve been able to get away from that time period, the more reps I got, the more I can fine-tune my routine and figure out what makes everything feel good. I’ve been able to be more aggressive and the arm is starting to feel like the good ole days.”
… Nick Maton had himself at night for Triple-A Toledo Wednesday. He got five hits and hit for the cycle. In 13 games since he was optioned, Maton is slashing .357/.431/.554 with a .984 OPS. He has 14 RBIs in that stretch with seven walks and 11 strikeouts.
On deck: White Sox
▶ Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit
▶ First pitch: Friday — 6:40 p.m.; Saturday — 6:10 p.m.; Sunday — 1:10 p.m.
▶ TV/radio: All games on BSD/97.1
▶ Probables: Friday — RHP Mike Clevinger (6-7, 3.90) vs. RHP Reese Olson (3-6, 4.65); Saturday — TBA vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (4-3, 3.77); Sunday — RHP Jesse Scholtens (1-7, 4.38) vs. TBA
▶ Clevinger, White Sox: The Tigers gave Clevinger one of the worst beatings of his pro career last Saturday in Chicago, pounding out 12 hits and scoring eight runs in four innings. The Tigers put nine four-seamers in play and eight sliders in play with a 91-mph average exit velo on both. In his start prior to that one, Clevinger punched out 10 and allowed one run in seven innings against Oakland.
▶ Olson, Tigers: Olson was the beneficiary of all those runs against Clevinger in Chicago and he responded with his most impressive outing of the season. He had full command of four pitches and blanked the White Sox on four hits, needing only 79 pitches to complete seven innings.