Early results encouraging as Tigers experiment with RHP Alex Faedo as hybrid reliever

Detroit News

Detroit — The role kind of looks good on him, to be honest.

It may be too early to call it a transition, but the Tigers are experimenting with right-hander Alex Faedo in a hybrid reliever role and the early results are encouraging.

He was summoned in the sixth inning Saturday night to protect a 1-0 lead against the White Sox and he shoved for two innings, striking out three and allowing only one base-runner (a walk), using an economical 31 pitches.

Four days before that, Tuesday in New York, he started the game as the opener and threw 40 pitches in 2.2 innings, the only damage a leadoff homer by DJ LeMahieu.

Three days before that, he pitched a clean ninth inning in the Tigers’ 10-0 win in Chicago.

“His stuff was crisp,” manager AJ Hinch said after the game Saturday. “It plays up when he can empty his tank and use his stuff. He’s a good strike-thrower, he controls the game and he’s getting lefties out this year at a nice rate.

“He makes it very interesting.”

Faedo has been a starter his entire pro career and, despite some injury setbacks, has had some success. But he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher — four-seam and slider — and his effectiveness has generally decreased as his pitch count rises. Per Baseball Reference:

▶ Pitches 1-25: Opponents slug .301 with a .541 OPS.

▶ Pitches 26-50: Opponents slug .476 with an .833 OPS.

▶ Pitches 51-75: Opponents slug .628 with a .989 OPS.

In the hybrid role, Hinch can keep Faedo under 50 pitches and potentially use him more than once every five days.

“We want to make sure we give him regular work on shorter rest,” he said. “So, four days off his Yankees outing (Saturday), get him out of there and he can be available on Tuesday (against the Reds). It’s almost like a baptism under fire, throwing him into situations he’s not used to being in.”

It’s not a traditional bullpen role, though. Hinch said he’d prefer to let him start innings clean without inherited runners.

“It’s just getting him on the mound more often,” he said. “He’ll throw like 70 pitches in a four-day span, which is normally like a one-day outing for him.”

It’s called maximizing a player’s strength.

Seizing opportunity

Reliever Miguel Diaz isn’t new to this. He’s 28 years old and began his professional career at age 17 in the Dominican Summer League. He pitched parts of four seasons for the Padres before making his brief Tigers debut last season.

So, it wasn’t really a surprise that Hinch called on him in the eighth inning Sunday to protect a one-run lead. The surprise is that the club waited until September to call him up.

“We did want to give a different look to a player who probably should’ve been here earlier in the year,” Hinch said. “But he’s taking his opportunity now.”

Diaz calmly induced three ground-ball outs Sunday, getting Lenyn Sosa, Tim Anderson and Andrew Benintendi to get the game to Alex Lange, who closed out the ninth for his 23rd save.

“The slider he’s throwing is really good and the sinker is really good,” Hinch said. “He’s always had the changeup.”

The slider is something Diaz has worked hard to develop. But the changeup off the mid-90s four-seamer and sinker, that’s been his bread-and-butter. He’s pitched four scoreless innings this season, allowing one hit with five strikeouts and a walk.

Including the three games he pitched last season, big league hitters are 2-for-25 against him, with eight strikeouts.

Still, Hinch didn’t initially have him up for the eighth. Hinch had targeted Diaz for Anderson and Benintendi in case lefty Tyler Holton faltered in the seventh. He didn’t. But Hinch didn’t hesitate to go to Diaz in the eighth, nevertheless.

“One of the things I really believe in is, if you target somebody in the seventh, why is it not good enough in the eighth?” Hinch said. “Outside of just defined roles, which would lead us to think I have to go to Jason Foley or I have to go to Lange.”

Hinch has made a point of not defining such roles.

“I think guys can do a little more when they are hot and ready and prepared for the same hitter,” he said. “I felt really good about using Miguel there and give Foley a rest.”

It will be interesting to see if Hinch uses Diaz as the third right-handed leverage reliever, essentially bumping Jose Cisnero back to lower-leverage situations.

On deck: Reds

Series: Three games at Comerica Park

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

TV/radio: Tuesday-Thursday — Bally Sports Detroit/97.1.

Probables: Tuesday — LHP Brandon Williamson (4-4, 4.20) vs. LHP Joey Wentz (2-11, 6.65); Wednesday — RHP Connor Phillips (0-0, 9.64) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (11-7, 3.18); Thursday — TBD vs. RHP Reese Olson (3-7, 4.50).

Williamson, Reds: This will be the rookie’s 20th start and his first after missing close to two weeks because of COVID. He features an effective changeup, which he throws off a 93-mph four-seamer and a cutter. The changeup is holding hitters to a .164 average with a 40.5% whiff rate. He will also mix in sweepers and curveballs.

Wentz, Tigers: He’s held hitters to a .214 average in his last three outings, two of which have been out of the bullpen, following an opener. His stuff has been crisper, but he’s still struggling to stay in the strike zone. He’s got nine strikeouts and seven walks in his last 11.1 innings. Three of the nine hits he’s allowed in that span have been home runs.

Twitter/X: @cmccosky

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