Tiger Pitchers Dig New Pitching Coach


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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Dusty Baker is about to manage in the World Series for the second time in his long managerial career, which includes stints with the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals, and Astros; his only previous Fall Classic as a pilot came with the 2002 Giants, a wild-card winner defeated by the wild-card Angels . . .

The 1906 New York Giants went the entire season wearing uniforms that read WORLD CHAMPIONS . . .

The biggest reason the Giants lost the Division Series to the Dodgers was inability to hit with runners in scoring position (3-for-25) . . .

In the 1985 NL playoffs, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog refused to send his team out for pre-game introductions as a protest of the marching bands that performed when he wanted to take infield practice . . .

Eddie Rosario and Paul Molitor are the only players to produce a pair of four-hit games during a playoff series . . .

With 225 hits in 1996, Molitor became the first 40-year-old since 1930 to produce a 200-hit season.

Leading Off

Youthful Pitching Coach Makes Tigers Pitchers Respectable Again

By Rogelio Castillo

As a Detroit Tigers fan growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, left-hander Steve Avery, who was from Taylor, Michigan, made the entire area including my hometown into Atlanta Braves fans.

Keep in mind that was in the ’90s, when the Tigers switched owners and were trying to
recapture the glory of being one of the best teams of the 1980s.

One of the reasons behind Avery’s success in addition to the rest of one of the best starting rotations of all time in John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine was Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone. That was the first time I was introduced as a teenager to how a pitching coach had an effect on an entire staff. Later, I would learn how Roger Craig showed Jack Morris and others on the Tigers’ staff how to throw a split-finger fastball, forever changing the fortune of Morris into a Hall of Fame player.

Mazzone, ironically enough, was a co-pitching coach with Johnny Sain in 1985. Sain helped the 1968 Tigers win the World Series with his spinner tool so the strange way Detroit ties itself to all of this is rather astonishing. 

Smoltz said he became a different pitcher after he was traded from the Tigers to the Braves because of Mazzone. 

"He simplified everything," says Smoltz. "I'll never forget it, he said, 'Give me your best athletic delivery.' I threw it, and he said, 'That's perfect.'"

Now I may have the opportunity to see how much one coach can make his pitchers on a regular basis.

During the 2021 season, manager A.J. Hinch hired pitching coach Chris Fetter, who is just 35 years old.

They first met around the time Fetter was switching gears into coaching and was already considered arising star in the industry.

At the University of Michigan, he quickly turned around a staff that made it to College World Series final in 2019. His intelligence that helped him maximize all his abilities as a pitcher in college and later in the Padres minor league system he applied to the young arms of the Tigers rotation, including Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.

Manning was starting to grow as a starter towards the end of the season because Fetter gave every pitcher on the 40-man roster a pitching plan to follow.

Manning started to throw sliders and as a result, teams could not just sit on his fastball and changeup. He started to develop a good out pitch.

Tyler Alexander, who was pitching out of the bullpen last season, showed improvement when he moved to the rotation back in the early summer. His cutter usage increased, which resulted in his other pitches being much more effective.

Kyle Funkhouser, who was one of the first cuts in spring training, looked transformed and was a go-to reliever when he was called upon.

Same with reliever Alex Lange, who develop a changeup to go with his fastball and a spiked curve. The team that finished dead-last during the shortened season in 2020 with an team ERA of 5.63 suddenly fell to 4.32.

To put that into full-season context, in 2019, the staff had a composite ERA of 5.24.

What made the improvement more impressive was the amount of injuries to the starting rotation. The pitching coach, along with Hinch, was able to take what they had and make it work.

Starters Spencer Turnbull and Julio Teheran were out for the season and Matthew Boyd missed large chunks but minor-league free agents like Wily Peralta and Drew Hutchison stepped up.

Peralta started to throw a splitter for the first time since 2015 at around 22% of the time and batters hit just .080 against it.

Across the roster, fans could see the difference.

Perhaps we are starting to see a new foundation building in Detroit with Chris Fetter at the helm. We in Detroit have noticed. Hopefully you will too.

Rogelio Castillo is the co-editor at Motor City Bengals.com, co-founder of the Tigers Minor League Report that discusses the Tigers minor league system, and co-host of the Tigers Radio Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @rogcastbaseball, @tigersMLreport and @TigersRadioPod.

Cleaning Up

Playoffs Show High Score One Day No Guarantee Of Success The Next

By Dan Schlossberg

Ancient Chinese proverb say every game is only as good as that day’s pitcher.

Judging by the scores in the two Championship Series so far, that saying isn’t far off base.

Consider the National League rematch between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers as Exhibit A.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe the scores of the first two games, both won by the Braves in the bottom of the ninth, were 3-2 and 5-4, respectively.

In the third game, the first to be played this year at Dodger Stadium, the Braves took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth. But before you could say “Luke Jackson,” two singles and a Cody Bellinger homer tied the score and a Mookie Betts double pushed across the game-winner in a 6-5 contest.

So much for one-run games – especially when the current NLCS matches two clubs that are offensive juggernauts.

Atlanta took Game 4, 9-2, and pushed the Dodgers to the brink of elimination in the best-of-seven series.

With star southpaw Max Fried, a Los Angeles native, on the mound for Game 5, most pundits predicted Atlanta would clinch the pennant at Chavez Ravine.

But not so fast.

After giving out 60 tickets to family and friends, Fried floundered, failed to protect a 2-0 lead provided by a Freddie Freeman homer with a man on, and failed to last five innings.

Although the Dodgers were engaged in a bullpen game, running out new arms in almost every inning, the Braves found themselves bamboozled rather than bombastic. They did not score again, watching in agony as Chris Taylor (3) and Pollard (2) combined for five homers, spearheading a 17-hit attack. Even ancient Albert Pujols, who can’t get around on a good fastball anymore, poked two singles.

That leads us back to Truist Park, where the good news for the Braves is that the Dodgers have lost all but one of the five games they played there this season.

No one knows what to make of Max Scherzer, who complained of a dead arm after his last start and declared himself out for a scheduled Game 6 start, or Walker Buehler, whose 2.47 earned run average ranked third in the league. Though both are considered Cy Young Award contenders, neither set the world on fire in previous starts this series.

Neither did Ian Anderson, a postseason stud last year, or Charlie Morton, the 37-year-old righthander who just re-signed an Atlanta contract worth $20 million for 2022, with a one-year club option. Morton, however, has a reputation as a big-game pitcher for Houston and Tampa Bay before signing with the Braves.

The Braves got an unexpected boost Thursday when Jorge Soler, who had tested positive for Covid-19, was cleared to return. He’ll probably push Joc Pederson back to the bench after the ex-Dodger endured a 1-for-9 streak. Soler certainly won’t replace red-hot Eddie Rosario, Atlanta’s leading candidates for NLCS MVP, or Adam Duvall, a superior defender whose RBI bat is just warming up.

Like the Dodgers, who are the National League’s wild-card team, the Boston Red Sox also hoped to turn a non-title year into a world championship. It didn’t happen.

Although the Houston Astros, champions of the American League West, had home-field advantage and won the opener, 5-4, the upstart Red Sox scored 21 runs the next two nights, winning 9-5 and 12-3.

Then Dusty Baker’s men came roaring back with consecutive 9-2 and 9-1 wins at Fenway Park, holding the powerful Red Sox to a measly three runs in two games in their own ballpark. The Astros were even more miserly in the finale.

With their 5-0 win in ALCS Game 6 at Minute Maid Park, the Astros advanced to the final round for the second time since 2017, the year of the electronic cheating scandal that cost Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch their jobs. Both returned this year – Cora to his old posting in the Red Sox dugout and Hinch to Detroit.

Looking back, it’s obvious that the score of one game can’t be used to predict the outcome of the next.

During the best-of-five NL Division Series, for example, the San Francisco Giants blanked the Dodgers twice, winning 4-0 in the opener and 1-0 in the third game. Those who were the only games won by the Giants, who led baseball with a franchise-record 107 wins but bowed out after losing three games to Los Angeles, 9-2, 7-2, and 2-1.

Two of the four teams still standing Friday night will be facing each other in the World Series that starts Tuesday. The team with the best record – Los Angeles if it advances – will have home-field advantage in the 1-2, 3-4-5, 6-7 format.

Only one thing is certain: if postseason play serves as an accurate barometer, it’s going to be one helluva wild ride.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly, among others. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

David (Big Papi) Ortiz, the top candidate for the Cooperstown Class of 2022, hit .668 in the 2013 World Series for the Red Sox against the Cardinals . . .

Ortiz has the most hits (2,303) anyone ever produced as a designated hitter . . .

A.J. Minter wears No. 33 for the Braves, who should have retired the jersey to honor former World Series MVP Lew Burdette . . .

Frank Thomas is the only major-leaguer with seven straight seasons of 20+ homers, 100 RBI, 100 walks, and a .300 batting average . . .

Thomas has a career slugging percentage of .555, best among all designated hitters.

Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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