Tigers giving bullpen workhorse Kyle Funkhouser some time to recharge

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers had just tied the game in the bottom of the fourth inning. This was Tuesday night in the opener against Boston. A shutdown inning in the top of the fifth would be huge, but with two outs, starter Wily Peralta walked Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez.

Manager AJ Hinch bounced out of the dugout and quickly summoned Kyle Funkhouser to face Alex Verdugo and rescue the inning.

Funkhouser did exactly that, punching out Verdugo and the Tigers scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth on their way to a 4-2 win.

Tigers pitcher Kyle Funkhouser has pitched 7⅔ innings since the All-Star break.

But that was the only batter Funkhouser faced. Which seemed odd.

Welcome to Funkhouser’s load-management period.

“As with all of our guys, I’m paying attention to what I see and what I know of their history,” Hinch said before the game Thursday. “There’s not a lot of science behind it because you never know what each guy can handle and can’t handle. You’ve got to use your judgment.”

It was Hinch’s judgment that he’d worn Funkhouser down. His 41⅓ innings pitched entering play Thursday trailed only the back-end trio of veterans Jose Cisnero (46⅓), Gregory Soto (44⅔) and Michael Fulmer (44).

From June 13 to the All-Star break, Funkhouser had pitched 17 high-leverage innings in 11 appearances. He’d thrown more than one inning in seven of those. On July 10 at Minnesota, right before the break, he threw 51 pitches in 2⅓ scoreless innings.

“First and foremost, I want to win as many games as we can,” Hinch said. “And I’m trying to do it with guys who are pitching a full season in the big leagues for the first time in their career. It’s a moving target trying to maximize all the guys that are available today and also pay attention to the entire season.

“It’s tricky, but it’s important for the player and for us moving forward.”

Since the break, Funkhouser has pitched in eight games and 7⅔ innings. Significantly, though, he’s pitched on back-to-back days once and gone multiple innings once. Hinch called on Funkhouser Thursday -- scoreless sixth inning. 

Whither Joey Wentz?

Hinch didn’t pull any punches Thursday morning regarding No. 6-ranked prospect Joey Wentz.

Asked if Wentz, a lefty starter the Tigers acquired from the Braves for Shane Greene, had been discussed as a possible September call-up, he said, “No, he hasn’t earned that yet. We’re still monitoring the quality he brings. We’ve got to get him inside the strike zone more consistently to get him up to (Triple-A) Toledo let alone to the big leagues.”

Wentz is coming back off Tommy John surgery. Often pitchers who've had that particular surgery, command is the last thing to come back.

He was scheduled to make his eighth start of the season for Double-A Erie Thursday. In 26⅓ innings at that level he’s walked 21 hitters. He’s been throwing up to 80 pitches per start.

“He may earn some more pitches if he gets in the strike zone a little bit more,” Hinch said. “He’s just been very erratic. Looking at the box score and the video and talking to our minor league people, they’ll tell you he shows flashes of command-control and then he can be erratic and that eats into his pitch count.”

Hinch said Wentz's ceiling would be 100 pitches.

“We want him to stretch innings and use the same number of pitches,” Hinch said. “Five innings and 85 pitches is too many and it’s because of his ball-strike ratio and not being able to attack hitters in leverage counts.”

Give and take

You can’t have it both ways.

The Tigers have carried at least one and sometimes two extra relief pitchers all season — mandatory given how cautious they have to be with pitchers’ workloads coming off a shortened 2020 season.

The downside is it can leave Hinch a little short-handed off the bench. On Wednesday, as the Tigers were trying to generate some kind of offense in a 4-1 game in the eighth inning, his options off the bench after a one-out double by Jeimer Candelario were Harold Castro, Willi Castro and Victor Reyes.

He used the two Castros to put left-handed batters in the box against Red Sox righty Adam Ottavino. Willi struck out hitting for catcher Grayson Greiner and Harold struck out hitting for shortstop Zack Short. That cost him the designated hitter going forward because Eric Haase had to catch.


“Our guys can do the job,” Hinch said. “It’s certainly nice to have different guys on the bench, some guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — we’ve had the with Robbie Grossman (pinch-hit homer earlier this season) and with Haase. But with those guys in the game, we have a smaller bench — guys who get hits more than power.”

Hinch said he felt good with the Castros coming up, because baserunners were needed more than the big fly at that moment.

“You don’t always have to come off the bench and hit home runs,” he said. “We needed them to just keep the line moving. We were trying to get the at-bat to Akil (Baddoo). That’s why we were trying to get guys on base. Singles in that situation would have been perfect.

“Obviously the big hit is always fun but for me, it’s just maximizing matchups. I wanted as many left-handed hitters against Ottavino as we could get. But if we had a guy on the bench with all the power and upside, I probably should’ve started him.”

Around the horn

The Tigers bullpen continued its stingy ways in Thursday's 8-1 win, but the streak is over. After Funkhouser and Ian Krol put up zeroes, the bullpen's scoreless innings streak was at 23, the most since 2011. But the Red Sox scratched across a run in the eighth off Erasmo Ramirez to bring that to an end. 

… The Red Sox came in leading baseball in outfield assists, but the Tigers showed no fear. Willi Castro went first to third on a single to left, running right in the face of left-fielder Alex Verdugo. Akil Baddoo, with two outs in the sixth, aggressively took second on a play bobbled in center field, then scored on a single by Jonathan Schoop. Haase went first to third on a single in the seventh.

"That's our identity," Hinch said. "What an illustration of why you keep playing until the play is over."


Twitter: @cmccosky

On deck: Indians

► Series: Three games at Progressive Field, Cleveland

► First pitch: Friday-Saturday — 7:10 p.m.; Sunday — 1:10 p.m.

► TV/radio: All games on BSD/97.1

► Probables: Friday — RHP Matt Manning (2-4, 5.59) vs. RHP Cal Quantrill (2-2, 3.40); Saturday — LHP Tyler Alexander (1-1, 4.77) vs. RHP Eli Morgan (1-3, 6.75); Sunday — RHP Wily Peralta (3-2, 3.47) vs. RHP Zach Plesac (6-4, 4.64)

► Manning, Tigers: It’s only an eight-start sample, but it’s odd that right-handed hitters are having significantly more success against him than left-handed hitters. Here are the splits, righties and lefties — average: .333-.211; slugging: .548-.324; OPS: .925-.617.

► Quantrill, Indians: The Tigers knocked him around for eight hits and four runs in 3⅓ innings on June 30. He’s only allowed nine earned runs total over has last six starts covering 34⅓ innings. He’s holding hitters to a .208 average and .352 slugging over that stretch.