No, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch didn’t name his Opening Day starter on Wednesday as Spring Training began. But he sounded increasingly likely to have a sixth starter.
The more the Tigers debate the value of a six-man rotation, the more it sounds like a matter of when they’ll try it, rather than if. The topic came up again Tuesday in a meeting with Hinch, general manager Al Avila and others in the Tigers' front office.
“It’s still under consideration,” Hinch said Wednesday morning.
The Tigers weren’t the first team to consider using six starters, and they probably wouldn’t be the only team to use them. But they might have the most unique situation for it. Detroit has three pitchers in the Top 25 of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Baseball Prospect Rankings who are expected to pitch for the Tigers sometime this year and who didn’t have a Minor League season last year. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal made their big league debuts in August 2020, made seven starts each and pitched 28 1/3 and 32 innings, respectively. Matt Manning didn’t pitch beyond Spring Training, Summer Camp and some alternate training site work, and he was shut down in September with a right forearm strain.
The Tigers have workhorses with Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and José Ureña, but their innings were limited in last year’s 60-game season. Michael Fulmer didn’t throw more than three innings in any of his starts last season in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. He can stretch out this year, but like the prospects, he won’t be ramped up too far, too fast.
“We’re going back and forth with our plans,” Hinch said. “And as much as it’s about the younger pitchers in camp, we also are going to pay close attention to others -- Turnbull and Boyd, obviously Fulmer coming off the injury. …
“Of course we know that a 200-inning season out of one of those younger pitchers is unlikely. Now, it was unlikely before the pandemic, just when you’re breaking in young pitching. There’s a fine line you can draw into tiptoeing around the season and trying to scratch and claw and budget for however many innings you have. That doesn’t help you against the Indians in the first series if any of these kids break with our team.”
The Tigers have an off-day scheduled on April 2 after Opening Day against Cleveland, then another off-day six days later. A six-man rotation to open the season would put the Opening Day starter on seven days' rest for his next outing. For that reason, Detroit could wait before putting a plan into action.
“I don’t know that we need it right at the beginning of the season,” Avila said Tuesday. “But certainly once we get underway, we’ll make adjustments.”
Another possibility is to stagger the prospects throughout the year, maybe using one to begin the season, then calling up another to take his place after a certain number of starts.
Ureña, lefty Gregory Soto and right-handed prospect Gerson Moreno were absent from Wednesday’s workout as they work out travel issues, according to Hinch, and they will have to go through intake testing and isolation once they arrive.
Prospect Franklin Perez also missed Wednesday’s workout, Hinch said, but he is expected to join them Thursday and be active.
The one injury absence is Rony García , who is in camp but is a non-participant while he recovers from a recent appendectomy. He will be unavailable for the foreseeable future, according to Hinch.
• One face in the manager’s office in Lakeland, Fla., hasn’t changed: Hall of Famer Ty Cobb’s picture still hangs on the wall. It still has a tear that Jim Leyland made when he threw his spikes at it following a game managing in the Minor Leagues decades ago.
• Hinch’s family remains back at their home in Texas, where they’ve been dealing with power outages from winter storms. “They’re fortunate enough to be at a house with a generator and able to stay warm and [have] enough water and food,” Hinch said. “We’ve had issues all throughout my neighborhood with pipes bursting.”