Detroit — If rookie right-hander Jason Foley didn’t look right when he made his big-league debut on June 6, well, it’s because he wasn’t.
A guy coming up through the system was throwing 100-mph bullets, there had to be a reason his fastball was coming in at 92, 93, 95 mph. There had to be a reason he was uncharacteristically spraying pitches and hitting batters.
“Actually, my shoulder was bugging me a little bit,” Foley said before Saturday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. “It was bugging me up here and right when I got sent back down. Just a little discomfort in there.”
Shoulder inflammation is a scary thing for a pitcher. It can portend such evils as rotator cuff or labrum damage. In this case, it was just inflammation. No structural damage.
“Once I got working with the trainers and I got that out, I felt a lot better,” Foley said. “I was throwing the ball a lot more freely.”
Foley, who is 25, hit three of the 22 batters he faced in his brief, four-game audition in June. He had a couple of rough outings for the Toledo Mud Hens when he first went back down. But he’s been lights-out for the past month and a half, allowing three runs with 14 strikeouts over his last 13 1/3 innings. Triple-A hitters are hitting just .200 and slugging .267 against him.
“He’s just settling in,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s a developing pitcher. These aren’t finished products. He wasn’t finished when we got him here and he’s still not a finished product. It takes a lot of experience, maturity and growth.
“(Toledo pitching coach) Doug Bochtler did a great job re-establishing his confidence on the mound to throw the ball over the plate with action.”
Hinch said he talked to Toledo manager Tom Prince on Saturday, discussing where to have the catchers set up for Foley on certain pitches.
“We just want to give him the best chance to be an effective strike-thrower,” Hinch said. “Because when he is in the zone, he’s nasty at any level.”
Foley has added a few steps to his pregame and postgame shoulder program, but didn’t have to make any changes to his mechanics.
“I think my confidence was a little bit boosted because my arm felt better,” Foley said. “It wasn’t in the back of my mind anymore and I was able to go out and just let it eat.”
Foley never doubted he’d get a second opportunity in the big leagues, at least not once he got his shoulder right.
“It was frustrating,” he said. “It wasn’t how you drew it up. But once I got my arm feeling better, it was just a matter of time. Once I started feeling good and throwing the ball a lot better, I knew another chance would be coming soon.”
Hinch said lefty Tyler Alexander, who was scheduled to work in long relief Saturday, will start on Friday in Cincinnati.
With Jose Urena back, Matthew Boyd returning from the injured list on Sunday and Wily Peralta due back this week, the Tigers are going to mix and match seven starters, using tandem starts to help manage the workloads of three rookie starters — Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.
“We are going to release our starters series by series,” Hinch said. “It’s going to change quite a bit.”
Alex Lange has been forever linked to Miguel Cabrera’s 500th home run.
Every time the video is shown, people will always see Alex Lange’s face and stats on the auxiliary scoreboard under the caption — “Alex Lange now warming in the Tigers’ bullpen” — as the ball sails over the right-center field fence.
“Pretty cool moment to be a part of,” said Lange, the Tigers’ rookie right-hander.
But as for that being his one link to immortality, let’s not close the book on that just yet.
“Let’s hope that’s not the reason they remember me,” he said with a laugh.
Hill strikes again
Remember that incredible diving catch Derek Hill made in left-center field in Toronto last Sunday? When he robbed Kevin Smith of at least a double? Well, Hill got Smith again Friday night, tracking his liner back to the wall, making a last-second route adjustment, leaping and catching the ball right at the top of the fence.
“Derek in center field has been a complete difference-maker to our defense,” Hinch said. “It’s funny how one upgrade in center can upgrade the corners just by shifting guys around. … Our outfield defense, when Derek is in the middle of it making plays — it’s a difference-maker.
“Robbing the home run is one thing, but there’s at least three or four plays a game where Derek does something that looks normal and it’s above average. It doesn’t go unnoticed by me or the staff, or the pitching staff.”
Around the horn
The Tigers will announce a roster move after Saturday’s game to accommodate Boyd’s return to the rotation. It is expected to be a position player going down, probably an outfielder.