VerHagen a good fit for Tigers' bullpen
TORONTO -- Drew VerHagen has a low, quiet voice that befits his laid-back personality. He does not come off as an adrenaline junkie. To hear VerHagen talk about a relief role fitting him, however, sounds like an entirely different person on the mound.
"I found as a starter, if I ever got too amped, there was always a valley where -- if I peaked too high -- my adrenaline would fall off in the next inning or two," VerHagen said. "I don't really have to worry about that in the 'pen. It's really fun not having to tone that back."
Yes, VerHagen would get amped. Now that he's starting to find success out of the bullpen, it's beginning to show. And the Tigers, whose bullpen has seen a string of struggles and bad fits this year, might have a success story in their former starting prospect.
VerHagen was a promising starting prospect when he made a spot start for the Tigers last summer. He might have gotten another chance if not for a back injury that cost him the rest of the season.
After more back woes coming out of Spring Training sidelined him until June, Tigers officials decided to convert the 24-year-old to a reliever. His early struggles at Triple-A Toledo were enough to push him back to Double-A Erie for a few weeks. A spot callup to Detroit saw him walk four batters in an inning on July 5, at which point he moved back to Toledo.
With Detroit needing arms and looking at its options for 2016, VerHagen returned a week and a half ago. Since then, the Tigers have used him five times, and not simply out of necessity.
"We're testing him a little bit," manager Brad Ausmus said. "The role as a reliever, is he suited for it? Where can he pitch? Can he pitch tight and late?"
His seventh inning on Friday night was a microcosm of his stuff at this point. He loaded the bases with two walks and a single -- but he also struck out the side, including Josh Donaldson taking a curveball for strike three, and Chris Colabello missing on back-to-back fastballs at 96 mph.
"His velocity's up, which makes his breaking ball better," Ausmus said.
That's 2-3 miles an hour harder than VerHagen was throwing as a starter.
"I think, probably as a starter, I wouldn't be sitting consistently where I'm at, maybe just topping out there," VerHagen said. "But with the shorter bursts, I cannot hold anything back when I'm out there for an inning or two."
The other factor, VerHagen said, is the back.
"I wasn't really healthy at any point last year," said VerHagen. "Every start, it was pretty much bothering me. This year, it's a lot more fun playing healthy."