Tigers contemplating hybrid role for Jose Urena when he returns next week
Toronto — The Tigers could be getting veteran right-hander Jose Urena back at some point next week. The question is, how will he fit back into the pitching plans for the rest of the season?
“I don’t know the full answer yet,” manager AJ Hinch said.
Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter met on that issue and others before the game here Sunday. Urena, recovering from a groin injury, threw two scoreless innings for Triple-A Toledo on Saturday. Normally, the Tigers would give him one more rehab start, stretch him to four innings and maybe 60 pitches, before activating him.
But that’s if he’s immediately rejoining the rotation. That might not be the case.
“We have to make a decision,” Hinch said. “Urena’s next three innings as we build him up to at least 50 pitches or more, is that better served at Triple-A or is it better served here?”
Matthew Boyd will make his final rehab start Tuesday and barring any setback, he, too, will be ready to rejoin the club. Boyd most certainly will go right back into a rotation that presently includes rookies Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, plus veterans Wily Peralta, Tyler Alexander and Sunday’s starter Drew Hutchison.
The Tigers built a sixth spot into the rotation to facilitate extra rest between starts for all the starters. They are trying to manage the workloads of all the pitchers, but especially the rookies, while allowing them to make all their starts through the end of the season.
The picture got a little cloudier before the game when the Tigers put Peralta on the injured list with a blister on his throwing hand. Right-handed reliever Alex Lange was activated off the taxi squad to take his place.
But, with Peralta expected to return when the 10 days are up, that move doesn't impact the crowded rotation too much.
Hinch has talked about the possibility of using some starters in tandem on certain days.
“We have a unique schedule where we play 13 games in a row between two off days and that will be a natural time where we will have the look of a six-man rotation,” Hinch said. “After that we will have days off where it’s not always the same.
“We are committed to Mize, Skubal and Manning not pitching on a five-day rotation. Now we get a healthy Boyd back and a healthy Urena back, that means we have too many starters.”
Urena, then, could be used in a hybrid role, still working on a starter’s schedule, still making a start here or there, but other outings could be bulk work out of the bullpen.
“It’s difficult to piece it all together,” Hinch said. “You don’t need six or seven full starters to get through that. But you need guys to pitch pretty regularly but with extra rest. Some of the games with Urena could be starts. I could also see him being extended as a bulk reliever in a game that we might start Skubal or Tyler Alexander in September.
“It’s all in pencil until we get to the next series.”
There will be some more moves coming soon, too, even before rosters expand to 28 on Sept. 1.
Outfielder Akil Baddoo (concussion) will rejoin the team in St. Louis on Tuesday. And since the Tigers play two games in a National League park with no designated hitter, Hinch might want to keep an extra bench player. Thus, the first move likely will be to send a pitcher back to Triple-A Toledo.
That move could be made after the game Sunday.
And when the Tigers return to Comerica Park next weekend, catcher Eric Haase (abdominal strain) should be ready to return. That will require another corresponding move — with either Grayson Greiner or Dustin Garneau being sent back.
The Tigers, too, likely will want to add another reliever, returning the bullpen to full strength. One of the extra outfielders, Daz Cameron or Victor Reyes, could be vulnerable.
On top of that, utility man Niko Goodrum (groin), who is expected to return to game action in Lakeland soon, could be ready by Sept. 1.
So, stay tuned.
Hill's turbo gear
Blue Jays slugger Teoscar Hernandez hit a ball in the sixth inning Saturday, one of those rising liners that looked like it wasn’t going to stop unless it hit something.
Tigers center fielder Derek Hill got a great break on it, but it seemed like it was picking up speed by the foot. Hill went from third gear to full throttle without even a change in his stride and ran it down in the left-center gap.
It was an amazing play, made all the more remarkable by how easily Hill made it look.
“Everybody talks about route efficiency,” Hinch said. “We start grading these things and looking for the perfect route. I’m looking for the perfect effort. His first step, he will go to the direction or he will correct his route.
“But he has a different gear he can go to. He can turn it on to complete a play. Whether he takes the perfect route or an incorrect route, he will not give up on an out.”
Hinch also marveled at how much ground Hill cov ers, even on balls not hit to him. There was a routine single to right field that the sure-handed Reyes fielded, but nevertheless, Hill hustled over and was directly behind him just in case.
“There is never a section of a play that Derek takes off,” Hinch said. “He can cover ground because he commits to trying to make the catch from contact. He doesn’t wait to see if he can catch it. If he takes a bad step, he’s still selling out with his next few steps to correct his route.”