How the Zen Master exited comfort zone to become an All-Star

July 10th, 2023

For a pitcher who thrives on keeping hitters off-balance with changeups, is a creature of habit.

The right-hander has a detailed routine to get his body ready for games, monitors his daily regimen and is focused on health. He is statistically better in night games compared to day games, and he doesn’t try to dismiss it, though he has thrived in some afternoon tilts this season.

Lorenzen isn’t nicknamed Zen Master just for his long hair and beard.

To get to this point, an All-Star for the first time in his career, Lorenzen has had to get out of his comfort zone, on and off the field. To take the next step in his pitching career, the Fullerton, Calif., native had to leave the comforts of home, get off the West Coast after one season with his hometown Angels and go back to the Midwestern chill, this time in Detroit. And he had to do it right after becoming a father last fall.

It wasn’t easy, which is why Lorenzen referenced having sleepless nights when he talked about becoming an All-Star.

“The sleepless nights were my passing up an opportunity to play for a team that I grew up idolizing with players on it, generational players, and a team that I believe is going to be really good and have a successful year, and moving away from my family,” Lorenzen said. “There’s just so many things, plenty of reasons for me to make a different decision, and so those were the sleepless nights. I’m like, ‘Man, am I making the right decision?’

“But after having a talk with [Tigers president of baseball operations] Scott [Harris], talking with him more and more and hearing about the plan that they had for me, and how the year was going to be geared towards winning and just getting me better, getting me where I need to be, I just felt good about it. That’s what gave me the peace of mind to come here, knowing that I was going to have an environment where people are going to try to help me get better each and every day. And they’ve totally lived up to it.”

Lorenzen’s All-Star selection isn’t just a vindication of his pitching, or his belief that he could move from the bullpen and be an effective full-time starter. It’s a vindication of that move from the West Coast after a year with the Angels and interest from other clubs.

“He’s a guy that I really wanted to acquire this offseason,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said after his club endured five scoreless innings at Lorenzen’s hands in his final start before the Midsummer Classic. “He’s a Fullerton kid, too.”

The Tigers have helped him improve his mechanics and learn a bit of pitch simplification. Last year, he had five different pitches that comprised of at least 10 percent of his pitch count, but nothing more than 22 percent. He could throw sinkers, fastballs, changeups, cutters and sweepers. The Tigers helped him focus on fastballs and changeups, while honing a higher-spin slider that has become an effective swing-and-miss pitch when it’s on, especially against left-handed hitters.

“I’ve thrown with so many mechanics,” Lorenzen said. “And [they were] pinning it down like, ‘These mechanics are your best mechanics. These mechanics bring out the best results when it comes to all your stuff.’ And now, I haven’t thought about mechanics all year, just because we’ve dialed into, ‘This is your arm slot when your stuff’s the best.’

“Now I’m not trying all this new stuff, and that’s where I [used to] get in trouble, try to get into my legs more, try to do this, try to manipulate this and see how this feels. And I haven’t done that once all year.”

By avoiding the temptation to tinker, Lorenzen has allowed himself to find a new comfort zone. He can spot sliders when he wants and get results by pairing it with high fastballs. He can find swinging strikes and soft outs on days when his changeup isn’t working.

His reward for all that work, ironically, is a throwback to his days as a reliever. For an inning on Tuesday, Lorenzen can rear back, face some of the National League’s best hitters out of the bullpen and get out of his comfort zone again.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to be throwing hard,” Lorenzen laughed. “I’m hoping that it reminds my nervous system what it feels like to throw that hard again, touch 99 [mph] or something like that and get my body to remember.”