Welcome to February, everyone. It’s the month where we get to see real live baseball again— as long as everything stays on the current schedule. As the team gears up for the start of spring there is plenty of news out there to catch up on. Let’s get to it.
Ready to go
Matt Manning is ready to pitch for the Tigers in 2021. He was progressing nicely last year until a forearm strain last August shut down the progress he was making at the alternate training site in Toledo. The injury may have been helpful to Manning’s development.
“It actually might have been a blessing for me. I moved some things around with my mechanics and was able to clean up my arm path.”
With some changes to his delivery and his offerings, Manning is currently throwing full bullpen sessions with no restrictions and is shooting for a major league debut at some point this season. He now looks to two different curveballs — a traditional 12-to-6 curve and another that moves more horizontally like a slider— to compliment his high 90s fastball. He’s also made some as yet unseen changes to his arm path. We’re curious.
A good Manning — and a good starting rotation — fits in with Manager AJ Hinch’s priorities for the development of the team.
“I’ve never seen a team have success at this level, sustained success, without a good pitching staff. You can’t win a game in the first inning, but you certainly feel like you can lose one by not having the right intensity, not having the right approach on the mound.”
The arrival of Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize last year is what the organization hopes was a step in the right direction. Manning — who is used to pitching alongside the other two — is planning on being the third piece of that puzzle for 2021.
Tork at third
Heading into the off season, Spencer Torkelson was given an area of focus by the organization: third base. He took that to heart, and has focused on getting better at third exclusively. He’s expected to continue refining this skill set at High-A West Michigan where he’ll be starting the season. Before he gets there he continues his off season training program where he works with some of his former college teammates taking batting practice and grounder after grounder after grounder at third. He’s hoping all this work —and the assistance of Alan Trammell, with whom he has developed a close relationship with since coming to the Tigers — will have him more than prepared to handle the hot corner when it’s time to make his major league debut. If you’re anxious to see how well all this work is paying off, you’ll get your chance in a few weeks when Torkelson arrives at spring training where he has been invited to workout with the big league club.
Mize learns from adversity
It’s no secret that Casey Mize didn’t have the best go of it in his seven game major league debut in 2020. As discouraging as those experiences were in the moment, Mize looks back for the positive aspects of his first experience with major league play.
“The on-field performance was not what I wanted, but I was really happy how I battled through and I kept moving forward. I was pleased with how I handled that and I’m looking to build off it.”
The big issue with Mize in 2020 was his command, and he has turned toward improving that for 2021. Diving pretty deeply into the details he has found that his four seam fastball plays well at the major league level — if he uses it correctly. That’s the key for Mize. Using his pitches correctly, getting ahead in counts, and being able to take better advantage of his opportunities.
Mize has been informed that he’s not a shoo-in for the rotation. There’s a spot for him, but he has to earn it, and he’s ready to do just that.
A different approach
Spencer Turnbull is coming into the year as an established starter, but things are a bit different. Instead of Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson, he’s working with AJ Hinch and Chris Fetter. Turnbull is looking forward to the experience and he isn’t alone there.
While the pitching staff hasn’t had the opportunity to work directly with Fetter, he sends them frequent emails and texts containing some pretty in depth analysis. Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd are already singing his praises — with Norris commenting that it took him 15 minutes just to get through one of his emails this off season. It’s a new direction for the club, and although they all have yet to meet their new manager and pitching coach, players are excited.
Turnbull especially is looking forward to the opportunity to work toward top-end starter status. He isn’t making any drastic changes. He’s just working on refining what he has and learning to reign in his emotions a bit more on the mound. He’s hoping a more level in game approach — and the opportunity to work directly with Fetter once spring training starts — will help him move in the direction he and the club would like to go.
MLB proposes a delay
Major League Baseball has sent a proposal to the players suggesting that the season be delayed by a month and shortened by eight games. The players would still make their full season salaries under the proposed arrangement which would also expand the use of the Designated Hitter to both leagues, would call for an expanded playoff schedule, and would put more control of the schedule into the hands of Rob Manfred. The players are considering the offer, but there is little expectation that they’ll take it.
The proposal does little if anything to offer the players something they aren’t already entitled to under their current agreement. I guess the DH provision is supposed to be seen as the benefit for the players, but on the other side of things, agreeing to an expanded playoff format is a much bigger win for MLB and the owners who stand to make truckloads of money off of the TV rights to a larger slate of playoff games. You can add to that the fact that more teams getting into the playoffs can be understandably seen as a disincentive for ownership to spend money for their teams to get better because making the post season is now an easier hurdle to clear. The proposal would also give Rob Manfred a greater amount of control over shortening the season if he sees fit. Put this all together and it becomes apparent why the players aren’t likely to go for this deal.