The Tigers head into the holidays with work to do toward improving their offense. But in filling out their rotation, culminating in signing Michael Lorenzen to a one-year, $8.5 million contract, they believe they’ve taken a key first step towards improvement.
“We feel really good about our rotation right now,” president of baseball operations Scott Harris said on a Tuesday call with reporters. “Part of the broader strategy here is to strengthen our pitching and defense while we address our offense. Reshaping our offensive identity will take time. It has to take time to achieve that goal. But we believe that the quickest way to stabilize a team is to build a collection of starters who give you a chance to win every night, and build a defense behind those starters who catch the ball every night. I think this is a step in that direction.”
Youngsters Beau Brieske, Joey Wentz, Garrett Hill and Alex Faedo, all forced into action last season due to injuries, are expected to contribute during the season. So, likely, will prospects Reese Olson (No. 10) and Wilmer Flores (No. 3). Tarik Skubal is expected back at some point following flexor tendon surgery in his left forearm late last season.
The Tigers used 17 starters last season due to injuries. Building depth against a repeat in 2023 was a priority.
“The days of just building a five-man rotation and letting them run through 162 [games], I think, are long gone,” Harris said. “So we know we’re going to need contributions from a lot of the young starters that are coming up through our system. I think adding Michael gives some of those guys a little bit more time if they need it.”
The Tigers saw Lorenzen as more than a space-filler. Their pursuit of the soon-to-be 31-year-old right-hander reflected a view of an experienced starter with upside, a trend Harris looked for in starters from his previous job as Giants general manager building rotations with help from short-term signings.
“Scott did a really good job of calling me and hounding my agent about making me become a Detroit Tiger,” said Lorenzen, who made 18 starts for the Angels last season in his first year as a starter since his rookie season with the Reds in 2015. “The plans that he has for me and for this organization, he sold me.
“I like to look at big-picture things. I like to make sure the organization is going in the right direction or where it needs to be. Him coming from San Francisco and what they’ve built over there, I just see the vision and I see what he’s trying to create here, and I want to be a part of it.”
Lorenzen covered 97 2/3 innings in 2022, posting an 8-6 record with a 4.24 ERA, 44 walks and 85 strikeouts. While his 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings were right around his career rate of 7.7, his 4.1 walks per nine innings explained in part why he wasn’t able to pitch deep into games more consistently. He pitched six or more innings in eight starts, but he also had three starts in which he tossed 3 1/3 or fewer innings.
Lorenzen was much more effective in September after returning from a right shoulder strain. He posted a 2.36 ERA, allowed a .161 opponents’ batting average and struck out 30 batters over 26 2/3 innings over his final five starts upon his return from the injured list. While his slider became a more effective pitch against right-handed hitters in that home stretch, holding opponents to a .115 average with a 33.3 percent whiff rate, his changeup was nasty against left-handed batters. The offspeed offering held hitters to 2-for-32 (.063) in September, to go along with a 39.5 percent swing-and-miss rate.
“I felt really healthy, raised my arm slot back to where it kind of always has been, and then a lot of it was just pitch selection and throwing certain pitches in certain times,” Lorenzen said. “I felt pretty consistent with my pitch shapes, making the ball do what I want it to do, but a lot of it was just picking the right pitch at the right time.”
Add in a four-seam fastball that averages 94 mph, a sinker, a cutter and a curveball, and Lorenzen has an array of weapons that Tigers pitching coaches Chris Fetter, Robin Lund and Juan Nieves can try to polish.
“A few things sparked my interest,” Harris said. “One, Michael is a double-plus athlete. He can do some things on the mound that not very many other starting pitchers can do in our game. I think it helps him make adjustments more easily. And second, Michael can get outs in a variety of ways. He can miss bats, he can induce chase, he can get ground balls, he can induce soft contact, he can keep the ball in the ballpark.
“We think he’s just scratching the surface as a starter. We think he can get better, and I know Michael thinks he can get better. And we feel like we’re adding a quality person here.”