Tigers look to navigate starting rotation hurdles until All-Star break
Detroit — Just get to the All-Star break.
That’s essentially the mission for the Tigers' bedraggled starting rotation.
“We’re just trying to get to the finish line of the All-Star break,” manager AJ Hinch said Friday before Game 2 against the Astros was postponed because of inclement weather.
“After that we will be able to get better assessments on (injured starters) Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull. You know, if we work all the way to getting Erasmo Ramirez running as a starter, hopefully we can look up in mid-July after the break and say we have too many options.”
That’s sounds ambitious. Confronting Hinch right now are the converging realities of being without his top two starters Turnbull (forearm strain) since June 5 and Boyd (elbow soreness) since June 15, the recent four-start struggles of Jose Urena and the impending innings restrictions on rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal.
Veteran Wily Peralta, who hasn’t been a starter since 2017, has been thrown into the fray. He was scheduled to make his second start, even though he isn’t stretched out much beyond five innings.
Rookie Matt Manning was hastily promoted on June 17 to fill one of the slots.
Ramirez, who has been on the injured list since May 8, was scheduled to make a rehab start for Toledo Friday, going a maximum of three innings.
“I don’t know if we will get all the way to starter ready with Ramirez,” Hinch said. “He was scheduled to go in the two-three inning range and that would be the natural role for him coming back — multi-inning reliever, troubleshooter.”
One of the things holding Ramirez back is his own efficiency. He needed only nine pitches to go 1⅓ innings in his first rehab outing, then 21 pitches in two innings in his more recent outing.
“We have to get him up to that long-relief, bridge role before we can evaluate him,” Hinch said.
Hinch mentioned veteran non-roster right-hander Drew Hutchison as a potential starter option. There have also been discussions about stretching Kyle Funkhouser out. But that’s not likely.
“If we stretch Funk out we’d lose a weapon there,” he said. “And we’re not sure how long we’d need him to start.”
It sounds like the Tigers plan to keep Urena in the rotation and let him work through his issues. He’s averaged less than four innings over his last four starts, yielding 21 earned runs in 14⅔ innings, with 10 walks, two hit batsmen and seven strikeouts.
All that after a stint on the injured list with a forearm cramp.
“The way he’s throwing is a concern,” Hinch said Thursday night. “He’s going to keep working. He hasn’t looked the same since the injury. But he says he’s healthy. He got up to 95 mph (Thursday) so the velocity is there.
“I don’t know if it’s a mental or physical issue for him.”
The Tigers will play a split doubleheader on Saturday, two seven-inning games starting at 1:10 p.m. and 6:10 p.m.
Around the horn
Center fielder Derek Hill (shoulder sprain) had his rehab assignment moved to Triple-A Toledo. Victor Reyes (intercostal strain) is still rehabbing in Lakeland, but he is expected to be moved to Toledo soon.
… Right-handed reliever Alex Lange (shoulder strain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen Sunday at Comerica Park. If that goes well, he will begin a rehab assignment at Toledo next week.
… Shortstop Niko Goodrum is back with the team after being home for the birth of his daughter.
“He is a happy man,” Hinch said. “Fatherhood can do that to you.”
Goodrum (finger) is still unable to do any baseball activity.
Astros at Tigers
► First pitch: 1:10 p.m. and 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► LHP Framber Valdez (4-0, 1.67), Astros: This will be his sixth start since coming back from a finger injury, and the last four have been really good. Four straight wins, four straight quality starts. Opponents are hitting .193 against him. He throws a nasty curveball and changeup off a 92-93 mph sinker. Nobody is hitting curve this year (.091 with a 45% whiff rate).
► RHP Casey Mize (4-4, 3.61), Tigers: We inspect and dissect his every start, but the reality is, he’s been consistently strong. Opponents are slashing .228/.304/.399 against him with an average exit velocity on balls in play of 88 mph. He still hasn’t found a sweet spot with his splitter, but his slider has been filthy (.181 opponent average with 32% whiff rate).
► RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1, 2.90), Astros: The Tigers caught him on a rare bad night in early April, tagging him for six runs. Since then, the Astros are 6-2 in his starts and he’s posted a 2.23 ERA with opponents hitting .181. He’s got an elite slider and curveball, each generates a 34% swing-and-miss rate.
► RHP Wily Peralta (0-1, 7.11), Tigers: He made his first start since 2017 in Anaheim and threw 87 pitches over five innings. Home run balls in a four-run third inning (Shohei Ohtani and Jared Walsh) ruined his night. But he threw strikes, sticking to his four-seam fastball (94 mph) and slider (82) and changeup mix.