Tigers continue to groom rookie Alex Lange for back-end bullpen role

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Rookie right-hander Alex Lange features a fastball that lights radar guns up to 98 mph and a curveball with spin so tight it registers as a slider on Statcast.

But in his 1.1 innings against the Royals on Friday night, he threw as many change-ups — his third pitch, one that he just reincorporated into his mix — as fastballs (eight). He threw five curves.

Tigers pitcher Alex Lange.

“That’s probably my fault,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game Saturday.

Fault is strong. The Tigers see Lange as a pitcher who can work at the back end of their bullpen in high-leverage situations. To do that, he will have to show he can get left-handed hitters out. The change-up is a major weapon against lefties and Lange faced four of them Friday.

Thus, the high change-up usage. Blame the Royals' lineup. 

“Pitch usage is something we talk about all the time,” Hinch said. “If I throw (Lange) in against all lefties, then you will see the change-up usage increase. That’s just the reality of who he’s facing and the type of hitters he’s facing.”

Lange this season has had more success against lefties than righties. Lefties are hitting .230 against him, nearly 50 points lower than right-handed hitters. The curveball and change-up are big reasons for that success.

“I’m more interested in the smaller sample of when he’s throwing the pitches to the hitter,” Hinch said.

Hinch used Casey Mize as an example. The one run he gave up in his three innings Friday was set up by an opposite-field double by left-handed hitter Kyle Isbel, which came off the only two-seam fastball Mize threw in the game.

“We don’t throw the ball down and away to Isbel,” Hinch said. “Casey did and he paid for it with a run. That matters to me more than how many sinkers he threw. He threw it to the wrong hitter at the wrong time.”

Lange ended up giving up the go-ahead run in the seventh on an RBI single by lefty Ryan O’Hearn. O’Hearn won an eight-pitch battle with Lange, finally slapping a 98-mph four-seam fastball to left through a drawn-in infield.

Lange had thrown him four straight change-ups and then two curveballs before throwing the heater on the third 3-2 pitch in the at-bat.

“With Alex, I’m fine with him throwing all those change-ups,” Hinch said. “If I’m going to make him a lefty-hitter specialist as a right-handed pitcher, the breaking ball and change-up are going to be big.

“We need him to elevate the (four-seam) fastball more. He will do that more as he gets comfortable with his best weapons.”

Season over?

Right-hander Jose Cisnero has been a valuable workhorse at the back end of the bullpen this year, but his season may be over.

“I would say it’s improbable at this point,” Hinch said when asked if Cisnero was going to pitch again this season. “But I’m not going to cancel it out yet. I don’t want to doubt anybody.”

Cisnero suffered an eight-stitch laceration on his right elbow when he slipped on his steps at his home. His throwing program has been limited because of swelling around the area of the stitches.

“There’s been little pockets of swelling in the back of the incisions which has caused us to slow down his throwing,” Hinch said. “I’m not as interested in getting him back up and getting him into a game if it’s only going to be a game or two.”

Hinch said if he’s not back up and throwing by the end of the Minnesota series next week, then he’d shut him down.

Odd man out

Hinch said when Isaac Paredes was called up from Toledo that it was going to cost somebody playing time. That somebody has been Willi Castro. Castro, who has not been in the lineup the last two games, has played in just three games since Sept. 16.

“He’s going to play either left field or second base (Sunday),” Hinch said. “We’re trying to do both, trying to win and get a look at guys. We want to look at Isaac, but he’s playing well, too. Victor Reyes is playing really, really well.

“I’m also into rewarding guys who play well.”

Castro has had a rough September, 6 for 34 (.176) with eight strikeouts and just one extra base hit. Reyes is 7 for 12 with two doubles in his last three games and has hit safely in 20 of his last 29 (.341/.368/.516 in that span).

Another outfielder, Daz Cameron, was 3 for 3 with two runs scored in his last start.

Around the horn

Robbie Grossman walked three times in a game Friday, marking the fourth time he’s walked three or more times in a game this season. His 93 walks is second most in the American League and fourth in the major leagues.


Twitter: @cmccosky

On deck: Royals at Tigers

►First pitch:12:10 p.m., Comerica Park, Detroit

►TV/radio: BSD/950 AM.

Scouting report

►LHP Kris Bubic (5-6, 4.80), Royals: He’s struggled to find consistency with his change-up. He throws it 80 mph off a 90-91 mph four-seam and has given up a lot of hard contact with it — 14 homers, .538 slugging percentage. It’ll be the fourth time the Tigers have faced him this season. They’ve scored just three runs in 16 innings, with 13 strikes and nine walks.  

►RHP Wily Peralta (4-3, 3.04), Tigers: He takes a 16-inning scoreless streak into his third outing against the Royals. They roughed him up in Kansas City in July, tagging him for five runs in 5.2 innings. His split-changeup remains one of the most effective pitches in the league. Opponents are 5 for 83 against it with 31 strikeouts and a 38% whiff rate.

— Chris McCosky