Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson stays on task despite uncertain future
Minneapolis — Count Tigers’ pitching coach Rick Anderson among those who cannot wait for the calendar to flip to January, 2021.
In the span of a couple of months he has dealt with the death of his mother and, over the weekend, the sudden retirement of his life-long friend Ron Gardenhire.
“There will never be another year like it,” Anderson said Tuesday. “Everybody is going through stuff. I was talking to my daughter and I just said, ‘Man, we’ve got to get to ’21 and get '20 out of the way. There’s been a lot of cruddy things going on.”
Anderson’s friendship with Gardenhire goes back to the late 1970s when both were in the Mets minor-league system. Anderson let a flat-broke Gardenhire and his wife share his modest little house and the two have been together in baseball since.
“Gardy had been paranoid, just like everyone else, with the COVID stuff all year and I think that wore him down a little bit,” Anderson said. “Then he got sick here in Minnesota and he never was feeling any better after that. That, on top of the COVID thing just kind of got to him.
“We are all saying he did the right thing because of the stress he was going through with all of this. We hate to see him go, but there is life after baseball, too. I believe he did the right thing.”
Still, it has to feel a little empty for Anderson, who has been coaching along side Gardenhire since 2002.
“Yeah, it’s tough to see him go in that sense,” Anderson said. “But we’re happy to see him go for all the other circumstances. I told him, we will still be close. We will still hang out. Just not on the baseball field.”
Gardenhire’s retirement puts Anderson and the rest of the coaching staff on thin ice, of course. They were all on one-year deals. But now, Anderson said, isn’t the time to worry about that.
“It’s just going to come down to what Al (Avila, general manager) decides,” Anderson said. “It will come down to who is going to manage and who does he want back. We haven’t even talked about it. We will just wait and see where Al is at with all of this.”
Innings limit coming?
Tarik Skubal, who started Tuesday against the Twins, will have one more start before the end of the season. Casey Mize, who starts Wednesday, will also have one more after that if the Tigers and Cardinals make up their doubleheader on Monday.
Both went into Tuesday with 23 innings. So both likely will finish the season with less than 40 innings under their belts. Which means, almost certainly, both will be on some type of innings restriction in 2021.
“I think that’s industry-wide,” Anderson said. “We were talking the other day, a guy like (Mets’ starter Jacob) deGrom and some of those guys who are penciled in every year for 220-plus innings are going to get 70-80 innings. So what’s going to be the threshold next year?
“Mize and Skubal are the same. Just industry-wide, it’s something we’re going to have to cross in the off-season.”
It’s even more of a concern for younger pitchers who didn’t get any work this year.
“It’s frustrating, too, that Alex Faedo and Matt Manning didn’t get any innings,” Anderson said. “They are our future guys, too. That’s something we have to deal with for next year, too.”
Faedo and Manning are expected to participate in the Tigers’ instructional league next month in Lakeland. It’s unclear whether Mize and Skubal will continue their seasons there.
“That’s all starting to come together now,” Anderson said. “We don’t have the total list yet.”
Anderson knows how bad the numbers look. His pitching staff ranks 29th in baseball in terms of ERA. He also know how bad the numbers look for veteran lefty Matthew Boyd, who leads the American League in losses (seven), earned runs allowed (42) and home runs allowed (14).
But inside the ugly numbers there are signs of progress.
“Think of it like a curve, and we all start at this point here,” he said, motioning toward a level spot on the imaginary curve. “You’re going to have bumps along the way. But as long as you see it climbing as we get toward the end of the year, then we’re going to be OK.
“The numbers aren’t what people want. Boyd doesn’t have very good numbers, but he’s actually been better in certain areas.”
Since the first three starts, Boyd has used his entire four-pitch arsenal. He’s been able to pitch to both sides of the plate more regularly — inside with his fastball and away with his change-up. But Anderson still thinks he gets in his own way too frequently.
“He needs to get to where he doesn’t overthink too much,” Anderson said. “The big thing with him is to get command of the strike zone and get command of his pitches.”
Anderson has implored just about every pitcher on the staff to learn to pitch inside on hitters — hard inside.
“We’ve got to get inside on guys and make them uncomfortable to keep the outside (part of the plate) open,” he said. “That’s all command-oriented. They have to be able to command pitches. Matty makes too many mistakes down the middle.
“The change-up has opened things up for him, but don’t be afraid to come in and miss in – maybe knock somebody down or even hit one here or there. That just keeps the plate open for you.”
Around the horn
The Tigers closed down their alternative site in Toledo over the weekend. But they’ve brought six players on this season-ending trip to Minnesota and Kansas City. Traveling with the club and serving as the taxi squad are pitchers Beau Burrows, Kyle Funkhouser and John Schreiber, catcher Grayson Greiner, infielder Sergio Alcantara and outfielder Christin Stewart.
Tigers at Twins
► First pitch: 7:40 p.m. Wednesday, Target Field, Minneapolis
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► RHP Casey Mize (0-2, 6.08), Tigers: His split-fingered fastball is supposed to be his out-pitch, but opponents are hitting .321 off it. His four-seam fastball is supposed to be a set-up pitch, but opponents are hitting .150 off it with a swing-and-miss rate of 30 percent. Maybe less of one and more of the other?
► RHP Kenta Maeda (5-1, 2.52), Twins: This will be the third time he’s faced the Tigers, who have given him his only loss. But he’s having a dominant season, in the top 16 percentile in exit velocity against, hard-hit rate, strikeout percentage and whiff percentage.