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VerHagen's long-term role with Tigers not settled

MLB.com

DETROIT -- Throughout Drew VerHagen's five years in the Tigers' organization, his 133 pitching appearances have been split almost exactly in half between relief outings and starts. In his mind, he still has work to do to determine which way he'll go for his long-term role.

"I mean, here I am throwing out of the 'pen today," said VerHagen, 26, who was called up Sunday from Triple-A Toledo, for which he's been a starter all year. "So no, I don't feel like I've solidified anything. But I feel comfortable doing both and I've stretched out to where I can do both."

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DETROIT -- Throughout Drew VerHagen's five years in the Tigers' organization, his 133 pitching appearances have been split almost exactly in half between relief outings and starts. In his mind, he still has work to do to determine which way he'll go for his long-term role.

"I mean, here I am throwing out of the 'pen today," said VerHagen, 26, who was called up Sunday from Triple-A Toledo, for which he's been a starter all year. "So no, I don't feel like I've solidified anything. But I feel comfortable doing both and I've stretched out to where I can do both."

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VerHagen's callup may be temporary, as he replaces outfielder Jim Adduci while the team aims to give the bullpen regulars some rest. But after being shut down last August to have thoracic outlet surgery, this is VerHagen's first chance back in the Majors to show where he might belong.

His intial outing resulted in a loss after he pitched three innings, and allowed two 12th-inning solo homers, in the Tigers' 5-3 defeat to the Royals on Monday.

In 2015, VerHagen made the switch from the rotation to the bullpen. He continued that way in '16, but since returning to Toledo at the start of this season, he's made 19 starts. He's 7-7 with a 4.90 ERA for the Mud Hens.

VerHagen said he has no preference for his pitching role. But starting, and pitching in high volume every fifth day, has helped him gain a routine that aided his recovery and improved the consistency of his pitches.

"Even if I return back to the 'pen, I feel like long term, getting out and throwing 100 pitches and working on your stuff, you can really iron out some things that you can't necessarily (when) coming out of the bullpen," he said.

About a month ago, VerHagen added a fourth pitch -- a slider -- to his mix of fastball, curveball and changeup. He said the slider looks like a fastball as he releases, which adds another dimension to his repertoire and may make the curveball less readable out of his hand. Adding a fourth pitch also suggests he may want an opportunity to start in the Majors.

"I do think for me, in my mind, he's more of a reliever," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It may not jive with what he thinks. It remains to be seen what ultimately is his role."

Ausmus noted that he thinks VerHagen's stuff "plays as a reliever," as it did in 2015 when VerHagen was 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in 20 relief outings in Detroit.

With potential trade chips in the pitching staff, headlined by starter Justin Verlander and reliever Justin Wilson, VerHagen's role may be better defined after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline if he stays in the Majors. Having a fourth pitch could give VerHagen versatility to join the rotation, or he could be reverted to a reliever just as easily.

"I think when you take a starter who has four pitches and you put them in the bullpen, they no longer need four," Ausmus said. "They take their two best, generally. Maybe use the third occasionally, but as a reliever, you don't need four pitches."

Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.

Detroit Tigers, Drew VerHagen