Toledo — A swear word stand-in for most of us, “Holy Toledo” might just be straight up vulgarity to Kyle Funkhouser.
The Tigers right-handed pitching prospect has passed the test at every level except with the Triple-A Mud Hens, where his struggles continued Friday night at Fifth Third Field.
Once a candidate to head north with the Tigers out of spring training, Funkhouser still is stuck in Ohio, close but so far from Detroit — depending on how you look at it.
“To be honest, with how bad the season’s been for me, it’s really easy to not think about it,” Funkhouser said of a final promotion someday. “If I was maybe pitching better, it would maybe be something that could creep in. But at the same time, you’re here.
"Just got to take it day by day and be where your feet are.”
“Here” and “where his feet are” have been a problem for Funkhouser — even the Toledo sidewalks seem to be plotting against the former Louisville ace.
Since being drafted by the Tigers in 2016 in the fourth round, Funkhouser’s numbers at other organization levels are fine: 5-7 with a 3.04 ERA.
In 10 starts over two seasons for the Mud Hens, he is 0-5 with a 7.56 ERA.
It’s not just a coincidence, said Doug Mientkiewicz, who is in the second season of his first Triple-A managerial gig after spending five seasons at lower levels.
“That’s A-ball and Double-A teams. It’s a different league here,” Mientkiewicz said. “Men start to show up in Triple-A. He’s having a rough time, that’s for sure. He’s got to take ownership of his career and battle through these tough times because, we keep saying the same stuff on him every time.”
The same stuff was command issues Friday night in a 9-8 loss to the Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings, the top Minnesota affiliate.
Funkhouser, 25, surrendered eight hits and five runs, needing 64 pitches to get through three innings.
The Palos Heights, Ill., native hit 96 mph and was consistently at 95. Funkhouser used his slider to help amass six strikeouts but singles shot through the infield were his undoing.
“The ball was a little bit up,” Funkhouser said. “Just ground balls in the hole and no one’s home, stuff like that. They hit balls hard, just not at anybody.
"It’s just how it goes sometimes.”
Funkhouser’s said he’s feeling as good as he has all year after missing May with right shoulder impingement put him on the injured list after six rough starts with Toledo.
That’s after last year when two starts after his Triple-A promotion, Funkhouser suffered a broken foot while walking on an uneven sidewalk with family members in Toledo, ending his season in late July.
The No. 15 Tigers prospect in The Detroit News preseason top 50, Funkhouser rehabbed and was ready for spring training where he was one of the last cuts by the flagship club.
Earlier this month, manager Ron Gardenhire said the Tigers discussed in spring camp how Funkhouser could help in Detroit this year.
“But he got hurt and he hasn’t pitched great,” Gardenhire said. “But we’re at the point where he needs to step up. We would really like to see him step up.”
After a pair of solid rehab starts in High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie — Funkhouser struck out 12 and allowed one run in 10 innings — it’s been more of the same in two Toledo starts.
Funkhouser started the second game of a doubleheader Friday after Toledo earned a 1-0 win in the opener behind a strong Drew VerHagen outing.
Playing as the visitors for the makeup of a road rainout, the Hens spotted Funkhouser four runs in the first, as Willi Castro and Victor Reyes had RBI doubles and Mikie Mahtook smacked his 11th Triple-A home run in 51 games.
However, three batters into Funkhouser’s first, the 6-foot-2 pitcher had allowed three singles and the bases were loaded. He left the game with his team down 5-4 after the third inning.
“That’s the only thing we’ve ever seen,” Mientkiewicz said. “Just a hard time getting clean innings.”
Funkhouser said he’s trying to keep positive despite the on- and off-field pitfalls.
“That’s all you can do really, you can’t really dwell on the past and just kind of take it from outing to outing and just get better,” he said. “I’m feeling healthy and that’s a good start, so just trying to make adjustments and move on.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.