PHOENIX -- If any league wants to plan a tripleheader in the future, here’s a pro tip: have Tigers lefty Joey Wentz start one of the games.
The two-time Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Week made a strong case for a threepeat by tossing another four scoreless innings in the first of three AFL games being played at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Saturday. He at least gets an efficiency award in the Salt River Rafters’ 3-0 win over the Peoria Javelinas. Even if he wasn’t quite as precise as he was in his previous two starts, he set the tone in a seven-inning game played in under two hours.
“I think I’m just trying to make quality pitches,” Wentz said. “I wasn’t ahead of hitters the way I would’ve liked today, but still a pretty good pace, a pretty good tempo and a good result at the end of the day.”
Four zeroes is four zeroes, even if it seemed like he “labored” at times. Wentz didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning and now has posted 12 shutout innings over his three starts, allowing just two hits and four walks while striking out 14.
The only time he really struggled was in the third inning. The Rafters had taken a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on fellow Tigers prospect Gage Workman’s RBI triple. The left-hander walked the leadoff hitter, Mets outfielder Stanley Consuegra, who was forced out one out later on a ground ball off the bat of Mariners infielder Jose Caballero. A pickoff throw was mishandled by D-backs first baseman Deyvison De Los Santos, allowing Caballerto to advance to second before he stole third. Workman made a nice play on a grounder from Padres top prospect Jackson Merrill to end the inning.
“You take the outs where you can get them,” Wentz said. “Especially when you go up 1-0, it’s good to get a shutdown inning. Kind of had to grind for it, but nonetheless zeroes. The guys played good on D. Gage made a couple of terrific plays behind me to get me out of innings. A lot of positives today for everybody.”
In the same organization as Workman, who played his college baseball in this stadium for Arizona State, Wentz has gotten very familiar with what he can do on the dirt and he wasn’t surprised at all when the shortstop made a fantastic play to end his outing in the fourth.
“Everybody with the Tigers knows Gage is a terrific player, a terrific defender,” Wentz said. “Certainly as a pitcher, I feel pretty good about the play being made.”
The plan is for Wentz to make one more start here in the Fall League, pushing him over 100 total innings for the year before he heads home and starts preparing for what could be a big year for him as part of the Tigers’ big league rotation on Opening Day. He threw well down the stretch with Detroit, posting a 3.03 ERA and .195 batting average against over seven starts, so his stellar AFL performance is a strong continuation of those efforts.
“I came down here after a month in the big leagues expecting to do well,” Wentz said. “Get my innings in and throw quality pitches. I think if you do that, the results take care of themselves and they did. Hopefully, I’ll keep the momentum going into spring. I’ll certainly try to take the efficiency on this field and take it to a Major League spring.”
All of this points to Wentz putting his injuries in his rearview mirror. He had Tommy John surgery in in 2020 and then had to deal with a shoulder issue that kept him off the mound for a stretch this year, necessitating the extra innings here this fall.
“Throughout my whole career, whenever I’ve been healthy and feeling good, I’ve always put up good numbers, shown well,” Wentz said. “In my head now after tasting a little bit of initial success in the big leagues, I think everybody just wants more of it. You kind of learn what it takes and hopefully I can build off of that.”