On Monday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers placed right-handed pitcher Dario Agrazal on the 10-day injured list with a forearm strain in his right arm. In a corresponding move, right-handed pitcher Anthony Castro has been recalled from the team’s alternate training site in Toledo.
No injury is ever good news, but the timing of this one makes it especially difficult to handle. Agrazal, who the Tigers acquired from Pittsburgh after he was designated for assignment in November 2019, was included on the team’s 30-man roster as the fifth starter as a replacement for Jordan Zimmermann when the veteran was relegated to the injured list. In Zimmermann’s stead, Agrazal was expected to take over the fifth spot in the rotation until Daniel Norris returned to action or Casey Mize was called up from the alternate training site.
Instead, only one day before his first start, Agrazal has been sidelined and the Tigers are left without much in the way of an obvious replacement for Tuesday’s game.
The corresponding move to recall Castro from the alternate training site is a reward hard-won by the 25-year old. He has worked as both a starter and a reliever in his seven-year professional career, but he only started garnering widespread attention as a prospect when he played for a glittering 2.46 ERA with the Whitecaps in 2017. The Tigers added him to the 40-man roster over the offseason. He made his MLB debut on Monday, and gave up two runs in an inning of work.
In a sense, Castro serves as Agrazal’s foil. The now-injured Agrazal tops out at 92 miles per hour with his sinker — his best pitch. He struggles to throw a consistent breaking ball or off-speed pitch, which limits his effectiveness at striking out opposing batters. On the other hand, Castro has no problem with velocity. He leverages his slender 6’2 frame into a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and tops out at 97 mph. He is also able to draw swings and misses with multiple other pitches, nots notably, a slider that flashes plus at times. It comes at the cost of his command, though, and he walks far too many hitters to be trusted implicitly right away.
In their most recent evaluation of Castro, FanGraphs opined that, going forward, he is best suited for role as a bullpen arm. The Tigers evidently agree with that conclusion. Over the course of 27 games last season, he made only 18 starts. It’s a pattern the team reinforced in Summer Camp, stretching out Agrazal to start, but affording only relief opportunities to Castro.
That leaves the team in a bind as to how to approach pitching Tuesday’s game. They clearly do not intend to expose Mize to major league competition before their hand is forced, even though he is probably the best option at this point. The problem is compounded by the fact that they used several pitchers in Monday’s game, including two long relief options in Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows.
According to MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the team intends to use an opener and relief pitchers during Tuesday’s game. Much like when Tampa Bay popularized the idea of a so-called “bullpen day,” it’s a choice being made more out of need than preference.
The Tigers have a number of pitchers who could theoretically pitch for multiple innings as the opener or in relief thereafter. Among those options are Burrows, Funkhouser, Rony Garcia, Carson Fulmer, Tyler Alexander, Gregory Soto, Buck Farmer, and Anthony Castro, all of whom began their careers as starters but transitioned to relief for one reason or another. But Burrows, Funkhouser, and Fulmer may all be unavailable after heavy workloads on Monday.
The bullpen should be able to shoulder the load this week, but a longer view is much more concerning. The Tigers intend to continue using Michael Fulmer as an opener. This makes total sense in a vacuum, given the nature of his injury and his limited effectiveness when he loses command. Norris will have to be stretched out to a starter’s workload upon his reinstatement from the COVID-19 list. Zimmermann is all but out for the season, and it’s unclear how long Agrazal will be missing in action. Thus, the bullpen will be forced to carry a heavier load of innings than in an average 60-game stretch.
The pitching staff will be the weak point on this team unless the Tigers decide to call upon Casey Mize for help in the rotation, or one of the existing players on the MLB roster makes some major improvements. Only time can tell the extent to which it will be a problem for the team. At the very least, it will force Tigers to be more creative than they might have been otherwise.