'I want to be here': Lange slings in relief

Righty cites increased trust in changeup, improved mechanics for recent success

September 3rd, 2021

CINCINNATI -- The Tigers’ recent propensity for comebacks has had two facets. Detroit’s late-inning offensive rallies have gotten the bulk of the attention, but the club’s middle-inning relief has quietly been as big of a factor. That’s where guys like Alex Lange, who tossed scoreless eighth and ninth innings in Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the A’s, are making an impression.

When the Tigers brought back Lange from Triple-A Toledo a couple weeks ago, they made it clear that while they’re still trying to win, they wanted to take another look at the rookie right-hander to figure out where he fits in their long-term picture. 

In previous Septembers with up to 40-man rosters, Lange might be among a half-dozen relievers in the same situation. With 28-man rosters this September, Lange has a golden opportunity to show how he has progressed from his earlier struggles.

“I'm just looking at it as an opportunity to be here,” Lange said. “I'm super fortunate. I'm having fun. I want to show what I can do. I want to show that I can help this team. I think this team, down the road, is going to be really, really, really good. We have grown a lot this year. I've really enjoyed being around these guys. I think there's only good things to come. I want to be here. I want to help this team in any way that I can. So just going out there and just putting up as many zeros as I can and [we'll] see what happens.”

With seven scoreless innings in five outings since his return, Lange has changed it up. Part of that is because he has literally thrown more changeups, a secondary pitch in his arsenal that had gone little-used in his first stint and really hadn’t been used much since he shifted from starter to full-time reliever after his trade from the Cubs two years ago.

Lange used his changeup for back-to-back strikeouts of Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco on Monday, among four swings and misses against the Twins. He has used it more often than his slider in his last two outings.

Lange entered Friday with a nearly 48 percent swing-and-miss rate on his changeup this season, according to Statcast, albeit on just 11.9 percent of his pitches. After hitters hammered the pitch in June, the contact has been softer since his return. Lange credits Triple-A Toledo pitching coach Doug Bochtler with helping him improve it in between.

"It's already helped me tremendously in keeping guys off my heater,” Lange said. “The heater's going to look even harder now, not showing them the putaway breaking ball or the putaway heater, just being able to hide stuff in certain situations and get weak contact and get early outs. It’s just a big pitch. I've realized that and continue to work, and I feel like it's in a good spot right now.”

The other major change is more mechanical. He has always had an explosive delivery that can get out of whack. By staying back a little longer as he delivers, he believes his command improves.

“Just continuing to try to get myself in the best position I can athletically to deliver the ball," Lange said. "And I felt like the more I was able to repeat that and be athletic and move better, the more the command's going to be better, because I'm repeating my delivery more -- more athletic and better sequence and timing. Better to continuously do the same motion over and over again.”

The more he can repeat it, the more he can pitch. The more innings he can deliver, the more manager A.J. Hinch can use him. Lange's early success already has earned him more work, allowing Hinch to pick his spots more with breakout reliever Kyle Funkhouser.

“I think Alex can fill a lot of different roles,” Hinch said Friday. “His stuff is really good across the board. I think his secondary stuff has really matured over the course of the season and he’s very comfortable throwing it. He’s had some really good, high pitch count at-bats that have ended in secondary pitches at the very end, which is pretty bold. His velocity has been good. His control of the running game has been good.

“The more that he can do the things like throw your secondary pitches, control the running game, the more innings that I can use him in leverage [situations]. His stuff will tell me that he can certainly pitch there.”