Tigers put Alexander on IL, release Dustin Garneau; what's next for the rotation?

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Former Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire used to say of difficult roster decisions, “These things have a tendency to work themselves out.”

Gardy’s adage proved itself correct again, at least in the short term.

Needing to trim the active roster from 28 to 26 by noon Monday, the Tigers were facing a choice of either trimming back to 12 position players and leaving manager AJ Hinch with a thin, three-man bench or removing a reliever from a bullpen that’s been the stingiest in baseball through the month of April.

Turns out, it's none of the above for right now. 

Tigers starter Tyler Alexander has a left-elbow sprain and didn’t get through four innings in any of his last three starts.

The Tigers designated veteran catcher Dustin Garneau for assignment and, in a surprise move, put lefty starter Tyler Alexander on the injured list because of a left elbow sprain — the same injury that has Casey Mize on the IL.

It was pretty evident based on his last three short starts that Alexander wasn’t right. There was no mention of soreness or injury, just that he was fighting his mechanics and location. He didn’t get through four innings in any of his last three starts. His walk rate was an uncharacteristic 8.5%, 3% higher than his career average. Hitters were slashing .327/.379/.558 with a .931 OPS against him.

Pitching with a sore elbow would help explain that, and also explain why the shape and spin rate on his cutter and sinker were significantly off their norms.

The question now becomes, what do the Tigers do to fill Alexander’s spot in the rotation, which will come around again when they are in Houston this weekend.

Mize and Matt Manning, recovering from shoulder inflammation, just started their flat-ground throwing programs in Lakeland last week. Manning could throw a bullpen sometime later this week, with Mize getting on the mound after that.

Already, the Tigers have promoted rookie Beau Brieske into the rotation, joining Michael Pineda, Eduardo Rodriguez and Tarik Skubal.  

Starting pitchers on the 40-man roster working in Toledo include Elvin Rodriguez, who has made just one start and isn’t fully built up; Joey Wentz, who, in his five starts hasn’t finished five innings; and Alex Faedo, who is scheduled to make his second start for Toledo on Tuesday.

If the Tigers want to purchase a contract of a starting pitcher from Toledo — which would require a corresponding move on the 40-man roster — veteran Chase Anderson and Nivaldo Rodriguez would be options.

The Tigers also have two veteran pitchers in their bullpen who have spent a good part of their careers as starters — Wily Peralta and Drew Hutchison, who both finished last season in the Tigers’ rotation.

But Hinch, speaking in Los Angeles Sunday before the news that Alexander was going on the IL, said he was hesitant to start the transition and build up their innings if it’s just going to be a short-term stint in the rotation.

Specifically, about Peralta, Hinch said, “I don’t want him to go back and forth. We’d have to have a pretty substantial runway for him to be a starter.”

Meaning, if it’s determined that Alexander will only miss a start, then the Tigers might fill with a bullpen game in Houston. If it looks like it might be a longer IL stint — and Mize has already been out since April 14 with the same injury — then maybe it’s worth stretching Peralta out.

Peralta, who has pitched 6.1 scoreless innings in relief, hasn’t thrown more than 34 pitches in an outing.  

With Garneau, as professional and reliable as he was, his roster spot became tenuous in early April when the Tigers traded for outfielder Austin Meadows. The Tigers’ initial plan was to carry three catchers — Tucker Barnhart, Eric Haase and Garneau — to enable Hinch to maximize Haase’s versatility, rotating him in at left field, to keep his power bat in the lineup more often.

With Meadows playing every day, coupled with Haase’s slow start at the plate (5-for-39), Garneau only played in eight games.

An eight-year veteran, Garneau was out of options and is expected to be claimed off waivers.

The Tigers are also waiting to see how significant Robbie Grossman's hand injury might be. He was hit on the right hand by a 93-mph fastball from Walker Buehler Sunday. Initial X-rays were negative for a fracture, but Grossman was expected to undergo further testing on Monday. 

The Tigers have four other outfielders besides Grossman presently on the roster: Meadows, Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill and Willi Castro. 

Pirates at Tigers

Series: Two games at Comerica Park

First pitch: Tuesday – 7:10 p.m.; Wednesday – 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Tuesday-Wednesday – BSDet/97.1

Probables: Tuesday – RHP Bryse Wilson (0-0, 4.70) vs. RHP Michael Pineda (1-1, 3.60); Wednesday – LHP Jose Quintana (0-1, 3.32) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (1-2, 3.05).

Wilson, Pirates: Walks have been an issue for the former Braves right-hander. He carries a 15% walk rate into Comerica Park. He mixes five pitches, leaning on his sinker (92 mph), curveball and slider against right-handed hitters, and his four-seam, change-up combo to lefties.

Pineda, Tigers: Pineda has been as advertised: Steady, quick-worker, strike-thrower, a pitch-to-contact starter who gets early outs and gives the team a chance to win. He mislocated three pitches in his five innings against the Twins at Target Field last week, and all three left the yard — two by Max Kepler and one by Ryan Jeffers.