Tigers reliever Kyle Funkhouser (lat strain) might not be ready for season opener
Bradenton, Fla. — Kyle Funkhouser, who emerged last season as an integral part of the Tigers’ winning bullpen mix, may not be able to start the season on time.
Manager AJ Hinch announced Saturday before the Tigers played a spring game against the Pirates that Funkhouser hasn’t been able to throw yet in camp because of lat soreness on his right side.
“It just hasn’t resolved itself,” Hinch said. “He hasn’t been throwing any bullpens or live batting practice. That’s a concern with the shorter spring. I don’t anticipate that he’ll be ready for the season. Three weeks from yesterday we open up. That’s not much time on a regular schedule, let along when you have a bump in the road like this.”
Conceivably, Funkhouser’s misfortune could be another reliever’s opportunity.
As it stands now, closer Gregory Soto, newly signed lefty Andrew Chafin, Michael Fulmer and Jose Cisnero comprise the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen. Eventually, once Michael Pineda gets up to speed, Tyler Alexander also will be part of the bullpen.
That leaves three open spots, with right-hander Alex Lange and Joe Jimenez having the inside track on two of those.
In the pack of relievers fighting for the last one — assuming MLB doesn’t expand rosters for April, which they are still contemplating — are right-handers Jason Foley, Bryan Garcia, Angel DeJesus and lefty Miguel Del Pozo, as well as non-roster right-handers Jacob Barnes, Miguel Diaz, Will Vest and Drew Carlton.
Lange and Foley both made their Grapefruit League debuts Saturday.
Lange was one strike away from getting out of the third unscathed, but Ben Gamel barreled up a 96-mph fastball and hit it over the wall in center, a two-run shot. Lange, though, was effectively mixing his change-up and slider off the 96-97 mph four-seamer.
Pitch efficiency has been an issue with him, but he got through the inning in 15 pitches.
"Go back and look at what he did in the second half for us," Hinch said. "He was pretty good."
Indeed. From Aug. 22 on, he allowed three runs in 18.2 innings, holding hitters to a .191 average.
Foley, who gave up a wind-aided homer to Oneil Cruz on a slider, got four misses on nine swings with a 96-97 mph sinker. He got through his inning in 16 pitches.
"We just wanted to get that first outing out of the way with those guys," Hinch said. "Foley could be pretty good for us. He's another guy that's been kind of glossed over when we're talking about adding bullpen help with free agents.
"This was a good step forward for him."