Detroit Tigers' Alex Lange on first MLB save: 'Always wanted to be a closer'

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Detroit Tigers reliever Alex Lange embraced catcher Dustin Garneau between the mound and home plate Monday evening at Comerica Park.

They were celebrating the final out in the ninth inning.

Lange retired three batters on nine pitches (seven strikes) to secure his first MLB save. More importantly, he completed the Tigers' 4-3 win over the American League Central-leading Chicago White Sox.

"It was a moment I've dreamed of since I was a little kid," Lange said Tuesday. "I've always wanted to be a closer, and having that opportunity is awesome. It's a dream come true, really. I'm super blessed and fortunate.

"Reflecting last night was a lot of fun. Just ever since I was a little kid, that's the moment I dreamed of: in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and nailing it down. Kind of surreal."

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Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Alex Lange (57) celebrates with catcher Dustin Garneau (64) after the game against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Alex Lange (57) celebrates with catcher Dustin Garneau (64) after the game against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.

Because of their recent workloads, manager AJ Hinch wasn't going to use top relievers Michael Fulmer or Kyle Funkhouser in Monday's game. With fellow high-leverage bullpen arms Gregory Soto (fractured finger) and Jose Cisnero (right elbow laceration) on the injured list, the Tigers went to their next-best weapon to beat the White Sox.

"When you come out of the bullpen, the stuff matters," Hinch said. "The ability to execute is probably more important. ... I like the players that can execute under that stress, either internal stress that you create on yourself or the stress that the situation does."

Lange recorded outs on balls in play with his four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball. Gavin Sheets and Cesar Hernandez grounded out to first baseman Jonathan Schoop, each on second-pitch offerings, while Brian Goodwin grounded out to second baseman Willi Castro on the fifth pitch he saw.

"In the ninth, you have to go on the attack mode," Lange, a rookie, said.

Since returning Aug. 22 from Triple-A Toledo, Lange has a 1.23 ERA with six walks and 14 strikeouts over 14⅔ innings. (He has a 4.26 ERA, 16 walks and 35 strikeouts over 31⅔ innings in 32 games this season.)

Lange's past six outings have come against three teams atop their divisions: Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers and White Sox. He boasts 5⅔ scoreless innings, zero walks and five strikeouts during this stretch, throwing 70% of his 71 pitches for strikes.

"You don't just come into a team and be given that role," Lange said. "It's something you have to work at. You have to earn the trust of AJ and Fett (pitching coach Chris Fetter), the other guys in the bullpen, the starters and the guys on the field. That ninth inning is a trust thing.

"Every time my name is called, I just want them to know that they can trust me and I can get the job done. It was a super cool moment, man. It's one of those things you don't really wrap your head around until you reflect on it."

Miguel Cabrera's health

Before Monday's seventh inning, the Tigers removed first baseman Miguel Cabrera from the game with back tightness. The 38-year-old wasn't included in Tuesday's lineup, a decision based on precaution and first pitch getting moved from 6:40 p.m. to 1:10 p.m. because of heavy rain expected in Detroit.

"When the game got changed to a day game, he was off," Hinch said. "Then the game happens and he's a little bit sore. I actually haven't seen him today yet. I haven't gone back to the training room. I'm anticipating he's fine if nobody called me early."

Cabrera's back tightened after he fell trying to make a play on a ball in the dirt.

He is hitting .257 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs, along with 40 walks and 113 strikeouts, over 122 games. The 19-year MLB veteran is 21 hits away from No. 3,000 with 11 games remaining in 2021.

Cabrera has started 43 games at first base and 76 at designated hitter.

Jimenez, Del Pozo updates

Right-handed reliever Joe Jimenez is nearing his return from the COVID-19 injured list. He showed up at Comerica Park on Monday, one day after he reported feeling "perfectly fine" during Sunday's 28-pitch bullpen in Toledo.

For now, Jimenez isn't expected to need a rehab assignment.

"I feel good about Joe," Hinch said. "I think we're more likely to activate him than send him out on rehab, for a couple of reasons. There's heavy rain in the area tomorrow, both here and in Louisville (where Triple-A Toledo is playing). He's more than equipped to jump right back in after a couple of bullpens. I would anticipate that move here in the coming days."

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Tigers pitcher Joe Jimenez throws during the seventh inning on Friday, June 11, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Joe Jimenez throws during the seventh inning on Friday, June 11, 2021, at Comerica Park.

Jimenez tested positive Sept. 6 for COVID-19, which landed him on the injured list. Fellow reliever Miguel Del Pozo went to the COVID-19 injured list Sept. 10 after testing positive. The left-hander is making progress in his recovery.

"Del Pozo is starting to ramp back up," Hinch said. "He needs to clear the last protocol with the doctor, his cardiac testing and things like that. Once he does that, we'll do the same plan with him on a throwing program for a few days, get him off the mound and see where he's at."

Jimenez has a 6.15 ERA this season with 32 walks and 51 strikeouts over 41 innings in 48 games. Del Pozo owns a 3.38 ERA, two walks and four strikeouts over 5⅓ innings in five outings, spending most of his year in Triple-A Toledo.

Player development changes

The Tigers have informed 11 player development staffers that they will not have their contracts renewed for the 2022 season, as first reported by The Athletic's Cody Stavenhagen and Brittany Ghiroli.

The list: Rafael Martinez (Latin American player development director), AJ Sager (pitching coordinator), Joe DePastino (catching coordinator), Jose Valentin (infield coordinator), Mark Johnson (Double-A Erie pitching coach), Willie Blair (High-A West Michigan pitching coach), Bill Springman (West Michigan hitting coach), Gary Cathcart (Complex League 2 manager), Santiago Garrido (Complex League 2 pitching coach), Ryan Minor (Complex League 1 manager) and Andres Tarazona (strength and conditioning coach).

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Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera sits (back); Lange reflects