VerHagen designated for assignment

May 5th, 2019

DETROIT -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire talked Saturday morning about finding high-leverage work for reliever Drew VerHagen based off of his recent work. Little could he have imagined that he’d be talking hours later about VerHagen getting a change of scenery after being designated for assignment.

Such was the frustration level after a disastrous inning of relief that included six runs, five hits, three walks -- one of them with the bases loaded -- and a wild pitch.

“He can’t figure it out,” Gardenhire said. “He can’t get the ball where he needs to right now.”

It was enough for the Tigers to drop VerHagen, knowing full well he could end up in another organization. Not only is the big right-hander out of Minor League options, but since he was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo last year, he can opt for free agency if he clears waivers and the Tigers outright him again.

“Maybe a change of scenery might do him good,” Gardenhire continued. “I like the heck out of the guy. He’s got good stuff, but he’s just all over the place right now. He knows it as well as anyone. Frustrating for him and us.”

The last time VerHagen had an outing like this was in Spring Training, and the Tigers shelved him two weeks with a forearm strain that forced him to open the season on the injured list. There was no injury this time, which made VerHagen’s struggles all the more perplexing.

“He says he feels good,” Gardenhire said. “It’s just total misfiring.”

Though VerHagen finished last season with a 3-3 record and 4.63 ERA in 41 appearances, his work out of the bullpen over the final four months had team officials encouraged he had figured out his mechanics and become a potentially formidable late-inning reliever. He allowed just 15 runs on 33 hits over 42 2/3 innings in his final 31 appearances from June 10 to season’s end, striking out 40 batters with a .583 OPS allowed.

“As we talked about before, I said he could be the key to our bullpen like last year, when he was able to get us to the eighth- and ninth-inning guys,” Gardenhire said. “But he’s just misfired so much right now.”

By contrast, the 28-year-old now has 10 runs on 10 walks and 10 hits in six innings this year, much of it spent in low-leverage situations to help him try to get back to form. Most of the damage has come off his sinker, the pitch that allowed him to escape jams with ground balls and double plays in seasons past.

“His stuff’s great. It’s moving all over the place,” catcher John Hicks said. “It’s just he can’t really find the command for it. He falls behind in counts and then he has to kind of give in to guys almost.”

The Tigers would’ve faced a big decision at season’s end with VerHagen, who will be eligible for arbitration with parts of six different seasons in the Majors. That now appears to be moot.