When Wednesday comes around, Detroit Tigers left-hander Joey Wentz — who has a 7.80 ERA in 10 starts this season — is expected to take the mound in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park.
He knows he's struggling badly.
But he's trying to stay positive.
"It's not going to do me any good to be down, so I try to keep optimistic about it," Wentz said. "I'm a realist. I don't think anyone's harder on myself than me. I'm not naive. I know I'm not pitching well. But certainly, I think you're always a good outing away from getting back in a groove."
The 25-year-old has been rocked by the Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals and Chicago White Sox in his past three starts, allowing 14 runs on 22 hits and three walks in 8⅔ innings for a 14.54 ERA.
He sounded defeated after Friday's 12-3 loss to the White Sox.
The Tigers, without ample starting pitching depth, continue to put their faith in Wentz rather than demoting him to Triple-A Toledo. Building Wentz's confidence is the primary focus before Wednesday's outing.
"I think Joey has got to clear his mind and go into his start as optimistic as he can given the struggles that he's had," Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. "His best is good enough. We're just trying to support him to make sure he knows. One thing he can't do is avoid the strike zone. He's going to have to continue to pound the strike zone, even though his fastball has gotten hit the last couple outings."
Wentz, who has shown flashes of brilliance in his 16-start career in the big leagues, recently reflected on a key situation that happened in the first inning Friday against the White Sox. There were two outs, two strikes and two runners in scoring position.
He worked ahead 1-2 in the count to Yasmani Grandal with three consecutive four-seam fastballs, and then he threw another four-seam fastball for his fourth pitch in the plate appearance.
Grandal — a fastball hitter — hit the middle-middle fastball for a single into center field. He drove in two runs and put the White Sox ahead, 3-0, while Wentz labored through the first inning.
"I'm not making pitches that I need to make," Wentz said. "My mix hasn't been great. ... Most of the stuff I'm working on has to do with offspeed pitches, landing quality spin (curveball) and quality changeup. If I reflect on some of my outings, my better ones, I've been ahead in most of the counts. I don't think the game is speeding up on me or anything like that. I just don't think I'm making the two-out pitches that I need to make."
Throwing fewer fastballs — thus relying on cutters, changeups and curveballs — could help Wentz in his next start. Opponents are hitting .405 with a .676 slugging percentage against his fastball this season.
Wentz diagnosed his fastball issue.
"I think it has to do with location," said Wentz, who doesn't think his lower arm slot is to blame. "I think it has to do with sequences. And I think that when I'm using all my options and getting ahead in the counts, it's harder to hit."
"He's going to dominate in this league," Boyd said. "We've talked a little bit. The one thing to always remember is you're never as far away as you seem, on either side of it. That's how you walk the line in the big leagues. It's never as bad as it seems, and it's never as good as it seems."
Wentz is likely to start Wednesday against the Rangers, but it's not official yet. He appreciates the advice from Boyd and fellow left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, and he hopes to find the answers to his problems in the big leagues.
"My attitude is, I try to be a diligent worker and try to be pretty even-keeled, show up every day, do my stuff," he said. "I certainly think that I'm one good outing away from going on a good stretch."
Triple-A Toledo right-hander Reese Olson, a member of the Tigers' 40-man roster, has a 6.38 ERA with 22 walks and 47 strikeouts across 36⅔ innings in 10 starts in the 2023 season.
Last season, he set the Double-A Erie record with 168 strikeouts.
In his past three starts, Olson owns a 1.26 ERA with six walks and 22 strikeouts across 14⅓ innings. The 23-year-old is lined up to pitch again for the Mud Hens on Thursday, one day after Wentz's projected start for the Tigers on Wednesday.
What's encouraging about Olson? He is using his changeup against right-handed and left-handed hitters and his fastball is finally missing bats. He has a 23.7% in-zone whiff rate and a 28.8% chase rate with his fastball, significantly better than last season. The new sinker has been used almost exclusively against right-handed hitters. He also appears to have improved his deception and tunneling.
There's still a lot to prove, but Olson seems to be trending in the right direction on the path to becoming a starter in the big leagues. He could operate as a multi-inning reliever, based on his top-tier secondary pitches, if he winds up struggling to get outs during the second time through the batting order.
Olson is a pitcher to watch as the Tigers await the returns of right-hander Matt Manning (right foot fracture) and left-hander Tarik Skubal (left elbow strain) from their injuries. Manning could return before Skubal.
Matt Vierling scratched
The Tigers scratched outfielder Matt Vierling from Monday's starting lineup with back soreness.
"He was pretty stiff coming into the day," Hinch said. "We're not going to take any chances. We'll get him fired up once and warmed up to see if he's available to pinch-hit, but we're going to be pretty cautious with that, especially when you factor in how many day games we've had."
Zack Short replaced Vierling and stepped in as the third baseman, batting No. 9 in the lineup. Zach McKinstry, the leadoff hitter, shifted from third base to right field. Andy Ibáñez, playing first base, moved up from the No. 9 spot to the No. 8 spot.
Vierling, hitting .241 with four home runs in 46 games, doesn't expect to need a stint on the injured list.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Joey Wentz trying to stay optimistic amidst struggles