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Tigers' Tyler Alexander seeks spot as starter but adapts to bullpen role

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — He didn’t love it, of course not.

Tyler Alexander was a starting pitcher coming up through the Tigers’ minor-league system. He finished the season in the Tigers’ rotation last year and he made a convincing case to maintain that spot in spring and summer camp.

So, yeah, it stung when he was told his left-handed services were more needed in the bullpen, working long relief. But all he wants to do, in the end, is put on a big-league uniform every day and help his team win.

Tigers pitcher Tyler Alexander is working out of the bullpen to start the season.

He adapted.

“I said it before, I wanted to be a starter,” he said Wednesday, a day after holding a one-run lead for two innings. “I’m hoping eventually I will work into a starting role. But right now we have some good starters and I’m happy where I’m at personally. I think I’m personally in a good spot.

“But I can start if they want to give me a start.”

Might not be for a while. He and Gregory Soto are the only two lefties in the bullpen. Eventually, lefty Nick Ramirez could be summoned from the taxi squad. Lefty Daniel Norris could be back before the end of the week — but it’s likely he will be put in the rotation.

More: 'He's swinging it real good': Tigers' JaCoby Jones exacts his revenge on Royals with game-winning homer

So Alexander will settle in and be a key part in what is starting out to be a dynamic bullpen — as evidenced by the six scoreless innings it covered Tuesday night.

“It’s almost like the next-man-up mentality,” he said. “When the reliever before you is throwing well, you want to come in and do that as well, especially with a one-run lead. You watch the guy before you, watch his success and you do everything you can to repeat that.”

Merrifield, Tiger killer

The Royals' Whit Merrifield had four hits and six RBI in the first two games of this series, and he’s got the Tigers pitchers shaking their heads.

“Let’s be honest, Merrifield has been our Kryptonite for a long time,” reliever Buck Farmer said. “He’s been a lot of team’s Kryptonite. He’s good player and a good hitter.”

Merrifield took a 15-game hitting streak against the Tigers into the game Wednesday. In that span, he’s hitting .429 with a 1.27 OPS. In 35 games at Comerica Park, he’s hitting .347.

Alexander had to face him in the fifth inning with the tying run on second base and two outs.

“He’s a smart hitter, a good hitter,” Alexander said. “I know he’s one of the best hitters and with first base open, I wasn’t afraid to walk him. I don’t like walking people, but I’m not afraid to.”

His steadfast refusal to walk hitters and throwing hitter's pitches in hitter's counts has got him in trouble. He’s learned to better pick his battles. In this case, instead of straight-up challenging Merrifield on a 3-2 pitch, he got him to chase a pitch out of the zone and fly out to right field.

“I’ve learned a little bit,” he said. “It’s OK to walk hitters once in a while, especially with a hitter like that.”

Let it fly

Through the first five games, 17 of the Tigers’ 20 runs have been produced by home run balls. A fact that does not concern manager Ron Gardenhire one bit.

“It’s baseball, it runs in cycles,” he said. “We’ll take the home runs. It’s all about winning games and I don’t really care how we do it — singles, doubles, triples. Home runs work really easy. We have more run producers now than we had last year. They know how to do those things.”

The Tigers have hit at least one home run in each of the first five games for just the seventh time since 1901. The last time they did it was 2017 when they hit one in 13 consecutive games.

Their 10 home runs this season is tied with the Cubs and White Sox atop the majors.

Around the horn

MLB has kicked around the idea of playing seven-inning double-headers to make up games that have been lost to either weather or the pandemic. Gardenhire is not a fan. “I like playing one game, nine innings,” he said. “When you play a doubleheader, that can knock your socks off for two or three days if things don’t go right. I’d like to stay away from that.”

…The MRI on pitcher Dario Agrazal’s right forearm showed no structural damage. Gardenhire said it was diagnosed as tendinitis, treated with rest and rehabilitation.

Royals at Tigers

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Thursday, Comerica Park

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit, 97.1 FM

Scouting report

RHP Brady Singer (0-0, 3.60), Royals: The first player from the draft class of 2018 to make it to the big leagues, Singer allowed three hits and struck out seven in his five-inning debut.

RHP Ivan Nova (0-0, 5.40), Tigers: He gave up a pair of home runs in his Tigers debut in Cincinnati, which aren’t normally a part of his package. He settled in, though, and kept the Tigers in the game, which they ultimately won, 6-4.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky