The struggle is real for Joey Wentz, so is Tigers’ faith that he can straighten it out

Detroit News

Detroit — There’s always more to it than the raw numbers. But, in the matter of Tigers lefty Joey Wentz’s struggles this season, well, the numbers leave little room for interpretation or further exploration.

His fastball has betrayed him. Plain and simple.

Last year, he had a plus-1 run value with his four-seamer. He limited hitters to a .209 batting average and .343 slug with it. And if you recall, that version of Joey Wentz was very good. The club went 4-1 in his five September starts last year and he posted a 1.73 ERA, holding hitters to a .161 average.

It’s not been anywhere near the same for him or his fastball this season. His four-seamer is carrying a run value of minus-20, in the bottom-1 percentile in baseball. Opponents are hitting it to the tune of a .371 average and a .667 slug.

The Reds on Tuesday night put six of his heaters in play in his 2.2 innings, with an average exit velocity of 93.3 mph.

“There’s some shape stuff going on with it,” Wentz said. “But also, if the shape’s not there, you’ve got to get it on the edges and I haven’t really done that either. There’s a couple of details with the fastball that’s making it easier to hit.”

It’s not velocity, because at 93.5 mph, the average is up 1.1 mph over last year. He’s also gained an extra two inches of extension, from 6.2 feet to 6.4 feet. The vertical and horizontal movement both are roughly the same as last season, as well.

“How the ball is coming out of his hand and where it ends up on the pitch plot is something pitchers have dove into a ton over the last couple of years,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Just to make sure the shape and movement pattern is right and they can tunnel different pitches off of it.”

If the shape of his fastball is off, then the cutters and changeups that he throws off of it will lose deception, making it easier for hitters to lay off those pitches and stay on the heater.

“It’s all intertwined on what the hitter can see and how they react against it,” Hinch said. “It’s kind of the beauty of demise of having so much data at your fingertips. You can obsess over the smallest of margins between pitches.

“But usage patterns are just as important as shapes.”

Wentz pitched a clean, 13-pitch first inning Tuesday but at the first hint of trouble in the second — the leadoff hitter reached on an error — the inning quickly blew up on him. Walks, as they typically do in his rough innings, played a part. He has shown a tendency to nibble with runners on base.

He ended up allowing six hits, three walks and five runs (two earned) in 2.2 innings.

“A calendar year ago, he was incredible in September,” Hinch said. “He’s lost a little bit of that mojo. I think he’s having a hard time recapturing that confidence during this grind.”

Wentz pushed back on the notion that he’s lost confidence.

“I don’t think it’s a confidence thing, I think it’s execution,” Wentz said. “You’ve got to throw quality (pitches) and I’m not really doing that. It’s not confidence as much as just making pitches. It’s been really difficult. I haven’t really done it all year.

“You just put one foot in front of the other and keep trying to get better.”

His teammates call him “Dogger,” and you can see why. The gaudy stat line (2-11, 6.65) and all that comes with it frustrates and disappoints him. But it has not defeated him. Nor has it defeated the Tigers’ belief in him. There is a reason he’s made 22 appearances and 18 starts this season.

They believe there is a quality big-league pitcher in there.

“It’s a different pitcher right now than what we expect and what we’re going to get,” Hinch said. “He’s going to fight through this and be better for it. But, it is hard to watch him go through the agony of this right now.”

Most likely, Hinch will deploy an opener before Wentz’s next start, which he’s done with some success recently.

Second, third options

Tigers outfielder Riley Greene was back in the clubhouse Wednesday, but he’s no closer to having a full understanding of the extent of his right elbow injury. He’d sought a second opinion from an out-of-state specialist.

And, he plans to seek another.

“I feel like you can’t have enough opinions, just to be sure about things, so we know what we’re going to do,” Greene said. “We’re just going to see what this guy says and go from there.”

Neither Greene nor Hinch would divulge the names of the doctors Greene is seeing. He is expected to travel with the team this weekend for the three-city trip to Anaheim, Los Angeles and Oakland. One of the leading elbow specialists, Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, is based in Los Angeles.

“It is unfair to comment until the whole medical process is done,” Hinch said. “Obviously, we are concerned about his injury. But right now, the information you have is the information we’re prepared to put out until we get a deeper understanding of what the plan is or where he’s at.”

The medical deliberations, most likely, are whether surgery is required, and if so, what kind of surgery. With less than three weeks left, Greene is not expected to return to competition this season.

“I don’t know, exactly, Hinch said. “We know where the calendar is and we know what it would take to get him back on the field. But we’re not declaring anything until we review the whole process.”

Greene injured his right (non-throwing) elbow making a sensational diving catch in left-center on a ball hit by Tim Anderson on Sept. 1 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

No-fun police

Tigers outfielder Akil Baddoo and former Tiger and current Reds reliever Derek Law were engaging in a long, post-anthem standoff before the game Tuesday. Both held their line in front of their respective dugouts long after the helicopter fly-over had passed and long after their teammates had gone back to the bench.

The umpires were meeting with the managers at home plate and they were still holding their ground.

Then Hinch came over, said something in passing, and Baddoo quickly abandoned his post, giving victory to Law.

“I just took it as my guy listened to me faster than their guy listened to (Reds manager David Bell),” Hinch said, laughing.

Here’s the deal: Home plate umpire Adrian Johnson is a stickler against the standoffs. So is Major League Baseball.

“The umps called us back to the plate to tell us they are under instructions when that happens to immediately eject,” Hinch said. “When you look at that, they had Derek Law out there, a reliever. We had Akil, one of our bench players who was more likely to get into the game.

“I just walked by Akil and I said, ‘Just for the record, he’s going to eject you in a second.’ Akil got right off the field.”

Good stuff.

Around the horn

… With his second-inning double Tuesday, Matt Vierling extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Going into play Wednesday, that was tied for the longest active hitting streak in the American League.

Reds at Tigers

First pitch: 1:00 p.m., Comerica Park

TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit, 97.1.

Scouting report:

TBA, Reds. The Reds are expected to deploy a bullpen game. They were going to announce the first reliever after the game Wednesday.

RHP Reese Olson (3-7, 4.50), Tigers: He’s coming off another gem against the White Sox (his third this season). He lost his no-hit bid with one out in the seventh. In his last three starts, two against the White Sox, he’s allowed just three earned runs in 18 innings with 16 punch-outs, holding hitters to a .150 average. You wonder, though, if innings restrictions are coming. He’s already pitched a career-high 122.2 innings counting his time at Toledo.

Twitter/X: @cmccosky

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