Anaheim, Calif. — The way he’s pitching these days, it’s hard to fathom that right-hander Will Vest didn’t make the Tigers’ active roster coming out of spring training.
Seems like a lifetime ago, certainly for him.
“I stumbled out of the gate, for sure,” he said. “I’m just happy I was able to get back up here relatively quickly and hit the ground running.”
Stumbled? He was barely recognizable this spring. He’d established himself as a bullpen mainstay in 2022 and was penciled in for one of the eight bullpen spots at the start of spring. But getting tagged for 13 runs in four Grapefruit League innings, with two walks, a hit batsman and two homers changed that narrative.
His delivery seemed slower. He wasn’t moving down the mound the same. His velocity was down and he was scattering pitches. None of that resembled the pitcher from 2022.
“It can be a little tough sometimes in spring training to get that fuel going,” he said earlier this season. “I had to do a gut check and find that.”
He found it fast and when he got called back up on April 22, he struck out seven in his first three innings and quickly made spring training feel like it never happened.
“I feel like that’s just baseball,” Vest said. “Just with how long the season is, there’s going to be ups and downs. I try to stay neutral the best I can and go out and do what I can do.”
The only hiccup since April has been a knee injury that kept him out from June 26 to Aug. 11. But on the year, he’s posted a 3.07 ERA and a 1.171 WHIP.
He’s pitched scoreless baseball in his last eight outings, covering 7⅔ innings on two hits with 13 strikeouts and one walk.
He’s added a little wrinkle to his four-seam, changeup, slider mix — a sneaky little sinker that gives him another weapon against right-handed hitters, who last season hit him better than left-handed hitters.
“Hitters are uncomfortable from the outset, just because of his fast arm, coming from a unique angle, from one of the smaller guys − the ball gets on you a little bit,” manager AJ Hinch said. “You factor in a little movement inside and all of a sudden he cause a little bit more uncomfortableness. And that covers up for any misfires with his slider or changeup.”
This season with the sinker, even though he’s used it sparingly, righties are hitting just .217, nearly 50 points lower than last year.
“Will’s done a good job of getting into leverage,” Hinch said. “He’s done a good job of coming and pounding the zone. His velo is up, His confidence is high. And his ability to make hitters uncomfortable with both movement and how fast his arm is more of the reason he’s become, kind of re-become, one of the primary players in our pen.”
Vest said he’s not changing his offseason routine, even with his struggles out of the gate last season. Those struggles, the way he views it, were an anomaly. A one-off.
“My offseason last year was fine,” he said. “Everything was fine in spring, too, as far as velo and shapes. It was just execution. I’m not changing anything. It wasn’t a physical thing. It was executing and just getting hit. This game is weird sometimes.”
Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, a 1⅔ inning-start in a mid-September minor league game.
But for Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull, it was a positive step forward.
Turnbull threw 48 pitches (26 strikes) and struck out four batters in 1⅔ innings for Triple-A Toledo Thursday night. He walked two and allowed a run on three hits. The results don’t matter much. The fact that he was able to go out there, compete and throw 48 pitches is something to build on.
He hadn’t pitched competitively since Aug. 22 and he barely threw much at all since the Tigers optioned him to Triple-A, because of an avulsed big toe of his left landing foot. An avulsion is where the nail is partially or completely torn off the nail bed. Turnbull’s was partially torn.
Turnbull tried various remedies to cushion the toe from the force of his delivery, but nothing helped. He was unable to throw his bullpens, let alone make his starts. Finally last week, he was flown to Detroit for a procedure to completely remove the nail from the toe.
Without the partial nail digging into the nail bed on every pitch, Turnbull was able to complete his delivery.
It’s unclear whether he will make it back to the big leagues this season, either as a starter or in a bullpen role. Regardless, as he goes forward beyond this already broken season, it’s vital he returns to competition and works himself back to form.
Around the horn
… Hall-of-Famer and Tigers’ special assistant Alan Trammell will be in uniform and in the dugout as an extra coach for this series in Anaheim. He lives 90 miles away in San Diego and Hinch wanted him in the dugout as an extra infield coach.
… Lefty Andrew Vasquez (calf) is expected to make his final rehab outing for Toledo this weekend. There is a chance he could rejoin the Tigers at some point on this three-city West Coast trip.
… Matt Vierling had himself a day Thursday. He had a Roberto Clemente-type day on the eve of Roberto Clemente Day (which was Friday). He became the second player since 1955 to get hit by a pitch, draw an intentional walk, steal a base and hit a grand slam in the same game. Clemente was the only other player to do that back on June 11, 1969.
… Speaking of big days, shortstop Ryan Kreidler, who is playing at Toledo, hit three home runs and knocked in six runs Thursday night.
Tigers at Angels
▶ First pitch: 9:07 p.m. Saturday, Angel Stadium, Anaheim, California
▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1
▶ RHP Sawyer Gipson-Long (1-0, 3.60), Tigers: So, what do you have for an encore? It’ll be tough to top his big-league debut when he calmly set down the first 10 hitters he faced and earned his first big-league win by going five innings and allowing two runs against the White Sox. He showed superb command, especially with his four-seam and changeup. He didn’t really much use or need his cutter, which has been a pivotal pitch for him.
▶ LHP Tyler Anderson (6-6, 5.36), Angels: He’s coming off one of stronger performances of the season (holding Cleveland to two runs over eight innings), but he’s not come close to matching his All-Star season from a year ago. His walk rate has nearly doubled (from 4.8% to 9.8%). The opponent average and OPS have also ballooned (.221 to .268 and .617 to .802). In terms of run value, his four-seamer has deteriorated from a plus-6 to a minus-9 and his cutter from a plus-5 to a minus-2.