Pleasantly surprised: Tigers' Rick Anderson sees no early innings restrictions for starters

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Thirty pitchers, one field, five mounds, 20 days to get ready for the season-opener, days split between bullpens, live batting practice, maybe 10 or 12 intrasquad games and just two exhibition games against an actual opponent — not exactly conducive to getting big-league starting pitchers stretched out to go deep into games.

Or so you would think.

“By the end (of camp), all the starters should be up to 75-80 pitches,” Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson said Tuesday. “If you add 15 to 20 pitches per outing, they could be up to 100 pitches to start the year. They’ll be stretched out.”

That is a remarkable feat.

“It’s been amazing to me what these guys have done,” Anderson said. “Everyone stayed in shape and kept throwing (over the three-month quarantine). It’s really been impressive. I was thinking I’d have to come and start from step one like a normal spring training.

From left, Tigers catcher Jake Rogers, pitching coach Rick Anderson, and pitcher Matt Manning chat after Manning throws live batting practice Tuesday at Comerica Park.

“But they’ve all come in great shape.”

The thought was the Tigers might have to extend their rotation early on to six and possibly seven pitchers, maybe using Tyler Alexander and Michael Fulmer in piggy-back starts with the presumed starting five of Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Ivan Nova, Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris.

Barring any healthy issues or setbacks, Alexander and Fulmer possibly could start the season in long relief. Though there is already one health worry. Norris has yet to be seen on the field. The Tigers have not made public the results of their COVID-19 tests, nor any injuries.

Pitching prospects Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal haven't been seen on the field yet, either. 

“That’s something we’ll have to talk to Al (Avila, general manager) about,” Anderson said. “I don’t know what the deal is. I am sure when the time comes we’ll have a pretty good answer for you.”

Fulmer, like the other four pitchers in the rotation, has thrown a two-inning live batting practice session and likely will pitch in the intrasquad game on Wednesday. But he hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since September 2018, coming off knee and elbow surgeries.

“His BP has been going well and he’s throwing great,” Anderson said. “The delivery is in order and he’s probably in the best shape I’ve ever seen him. Nevertheless, the last step of a rehab is games and that’s where we are at.

“You can do all the conditioning and throwing you want, but you have to get into games and that’s coming next. We will get him in some games and see where he’s at.”

Another somewhat surprising candidate to get stretched out either for long relief or a spot start is minor-league free agent Shao-Ching Chiang. After missing the first part of the abbreviated spring training in Lakeland, Chiang opened eyes with a 97-mph fastball.

Chiang threw an inning of live batting practice on Monday.

“As he was throwing I was asking the hitters, what are you seeing here?” Anderson said. “They said he hides the ball and you don’t see it, then all of a sudden it’s on you. If it’s on you like that, and it’s 97 mph, that’s pretty good.

“He’s got those short arms and he hides the ball. He’s one of those guys we could possibly stretch out and see what we got.”

Anderson, all told, was prepared for much worse than what he’s seen through the first five days of workouts.

“I had them all throw a bullpen when they first came in just to see where they were at,” he said. “It’s been very impressive. … The good thing about it, we had the early spring where we were able to get things in order and get it started. But almost all of them went home and continued with the process.

“I didn’t have to go back over what we did three months ago. They all retained it and moved forward with it. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Included in the category of pleasant surprises has been the early work for former No. 1 prospect Beau Burrows. The right-hander was out of kilter in Lakeland and was effectively taken out of the mix while he worked to regain his mechanics.

“He had a tough spring, but he got his act together and he learned his arm slot — which was a great thing,” Anderson said. “He threw BP (Monday) and he looked outstanding.”

The problem for guys like Burrows and the other prospects, even the elite ones like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Faedo and Skubal, is their number of competitive innings will be sorely limited this season in the absence of minor-league baseball.

They are expected to start the season on the taxi squad, which means they will be throwing bullpens, batting practices and intrasquad games at Toledo’s Fifth Third Field unless they get called up to Detroit.

“This pandemic is horrible; everybody knows that,” Anderson said. “It really stinks from a pitching standpoint. For your young pitchers, there’s not that minor-league system to keep them going, to keep their development going.

“We will do as much as we can to get them innings and face hitters and keep their development going forward. But it’s a tough thing for a lot of them.”

Twitter: @cmccosky