It’s ugly out there. This was supposed to be the arrival year for the next great Detroit Tigers pitching staff. Instead, Tucker Barnhart, Kody Clemens, and Harold Castro each have pitched more innings than Spencer Turnbull, who still is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and, combined, those three position players have pitched nearly as many innings (7.0) as has Matt Manning (8.0), who hasn’t pitched since mid-April due to various injuries. Casey Mize also couldn’t make it out of April, throwing just ten innings before injuries knocked him out and eventually required him to take the Tommy John medicine. Alex Faedo survived all the way to July before discovering he’d inherited one of Matt Kemp‘s hips. Elvin Rodriguez, who came to the Tigers organization as the player to be named later in the Justin Upton trade, has made five scattered starts, because why not? (His rotation-worst 13.19 ERA is why not.) The two veteran workhorses signed in the offseason, Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Pineda, have not been good in the rare moments they’ve been on the field, and while Pineda recently returned (to serve live batting practice), the team literally doesn’t know where Rodriquez is and apparently hasn’t for some time. Tarik Skubal stood amidst the carnage and looked ready to thrive, but he fell apart sometime in mid-June and has not yet commenced the reassembly process. (Skubal’s pitching as I write, so maybe this will serve as a reverse jinx.)
This leaves Beau Brieske as the first-half star of the Detroit rotation, just as everyone predicted. He shouldered more innings than every Tigers starter other than Skubal and, since June 1, he leads those starters in ERA (3.35), FIP (3.64), and fWAR (0.8). All of this of course made today’s injury announcement even more predictable. The twenty-seventh-round draft pick out of CSU-Pueblo will be out until at least August with a sore throwing arm. Considering the 91.2 innings he’s pitched for Detroit and Toledo in about three months nearly match the 106.2 innings he threw in a full season of minor-league ball in 2021 (and far exceed the 20.1 professional innings tossed in 2019), he probably was due for some soreness.
On the other side, Tigers fans have been fawning over the bullpen’s first-half performance. Only the Astros’ and Yankees’ bullpens posted lower ERAs in the first half. That’s neat, especially for a Detroit franchise with a recent history of notable struggles in that department. Maybe don’t look much further than that, though, because there’s good reason to expect the relief corps to collapse down the stretch as well. As a consequence of the severe rotation problems, the Detroit bullpen was highly taxed, and that fatigue, which very possibly will be further exacerbated in the next two weeks by trade departures, should start to manifest itself in terms of in-game results. Independent of that, an expected return to ordinary home-run/fly-ball fluctuations– the gap between the bullpen’s 3.31 FIP and 4.06 xFIP suggests a good deal of good luck in this regard– also would bring this group back to Earth.
Manager A.J. Hinch has the unenviable task of patching together enough functioning arms to cover the roughly 630 innings remaining in this season. His navigation of that obstacle course alone may make this second half worth watching.