In another lost season, it feels a bit precious to say the Tigers have had a rough week, but it’s hard to describe it any other way. The trade deadline passed with just a whimper of defeat from the front office. Tarik Skubal wisely chose to inform the team that his arm was feeling excessive fatigue after his start on Monday, but it’s hard to put a trip to the injured list in the plus column. Miguel Cabrera’s knees are shot after a few months of work and once again his presence on the roster is rapidly becoming a problem after a halfway decent first half. And another lost series full of outs and runs given away to the Minnesota Twins brought a short road trip to its conclusion.
With two months of the 2022 campaign left to go, the Tigers should be turning to younger talent and moving on from veterans. But they just don’t have much of that younger, major league ready talent at the Triple-A level. With Robbie Grossman traded away, Daz Cameron has been called up and should see more playing time. But it’s been a few years since there was hope that the 25 year old would develop into a good major leaguer. Ryan Kreidler and Kerry Carpenter might provide some intrigue, but professionals in the industry won’t be laying down bets on their success as everyday players either.
While fans wonder how they can possibly turn things around this offseason, at least the Tigers can look forward to the return of some of the injured. Matt Manning finally rejoined the rotation on Tuesday night. Beau Brieske is stretching out for a return soon as well. Joey Wentz rehabbed with West Michigan successfully on Wednesday. Beyond them, watching for progress from Riley Greene and hoping that Spencer Torkelson can find his timing and approach and find some late season success are the key attractions that don’t involve hoping for minor miracles.
In the meantime, we’re still left with a veteran starter who has no long-term place in the organization for this Thursday night tilt with Tampa.
Fortunately, baseball fans, particularly Tigers fans, have gotten pretty good at finding interest in the minor individual dramas of players. Take Drew Hutchison, who takes the ball to open a four-game set in Comerica Park against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday evening. The veteran journeyman was an interesting young starting pitcher ten years ago when he debuted for the Toronto Blue Jays. That 2012 debut was quickly cut short with a UCL injury that required Tommy John surgery. Hutchison returned in 2014 and posted the best season of his career, collecting 2.6 fWAR for the Jays. Another solid season followed in 2015, and then the wheels came off.
Hutchison just never progressed from there, falling into a cycle of being being traded, optioned, and released with several teams. He played independent league ball in 2020, and then in 2021 was picked up by a Tigers’ team desperate for temporary starting pitching depth. In part of two seasons with the Tigers, he’s already been designated for assignment twice and re-signed to minor league contracts.
Players like this are often made to feel like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. People wonder why they don’t give up and move on to something else in their life. They wonder if such a player is just delusional, imagining that their childhood dreams of major league glory are still just around the corner. More likely, it’s a simple equation. They still love playing the game at a high level, and for those like Hutchison, who can fill a hole for a bottom feeder club, the pay is still pretty darn good even if it only lasts for a few starts at a time. Even on a bad team, it’s pretty darn good work if you can get it.
The strikeout touch Hutchison showed early in his career is long gone now. With the Tigers he’s basically been a fastball-slider pitcher who stays well out of the heart of the plate inducing routine contact at his best, but issuing a lot of walks as a result. He still throws enough first pitch strikes to avoid too many hitters counts, but he also struggles mightily to put anyone away on strikes. A free swinging, low power team like the Rays isn’t a bad matchup for Hutch.
If he keeps the ball in the park against the Rays, and the defense plays their part well, he should be able to keep the Tigers in the game. And staying in the game is the theme of Hutchison’s whole career.
Detroit Tigers (42-64) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (55-49)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: DRaysBay
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Drew Hutchison (1-4, 4.53 ERA) vs LHP Jeffrey Springs (3-3, 2.70 ERA)
Game 107 Pitching Matchup
Jeffrey Springs makes for a reasonable foil for Hutchison. He was once a pretty good starting pitching prospect, but now nearly 30 years old, the left-hander has found minimal success in parts of five seasons. His main issue has always been a very hittable 92 mph fastball that gives up a lot of home runs. His main strength is a good slider-changeup combination. That changeup features low spin, good depth, and plenty of deception, and has always been his calling card and his second most used pitch, but since joining the Rays in 2021 and getting their usual high quality tune-up, it’s the sweeping slider that has really come to prominence as a fine secondary offering.
Springs steps pretty severely toward the left-handed batters box and crossfires his way back to his target. That gives him a fair bit of deception and creates a bit of angle that takes hitters a while to adapt to. He works the bottom of the strike zone well, and the Rays have him using the fastball less than he used to and mixing all three offerings early in counts. All these elements have combined to help him get the home run problem more under control. He’s still average at best in this regard, and the Tigers have teed off on some lefties recently in particular, but we can probably expect an annoyingly good performance on a warm, damp night in Detroit that could see a rain delay in the mix.
If the Tigers are going to get to Springs, bet on Riley Greene, Javier Báez, and Eric Haase to lead the way offensively.
Miguel Cabrera isn't doing well from a health standpoint. His right knee is really bothering him. He won't play as much down the stretch.— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) August 3, 2022
A.J. Hinch: "I've talked to him about playing time moving forward and trying to get him a few more regularly scheduled days off." #Tigers