Why Detroit Tigers added 'unheralded hero' Tyler Alexander to starting rotation

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Tyler Alexander laughed as he described himself as a "utility relief pitcher" for the Detroit Tigers in 2021. He doesn't pitch in high leverage situations, but he isn't an arm manager AJ Hinch is willing to waste in the late innings of a blowout.

Hinch offered a more appropriate title: "Unheralded hero."

"He doesn't get a lot of love all the time because he gets a little bit of the grunt work and put in whenever I can put him in," Hinch said Sunday. "I ask him to do some things that he has to prepare for mentally, but he never knows if the opportunity is going to come. I applaud his attitude, his effort, his preparation. He's got guts."

And now the left-hander will enter the rotation, beginning Thursday against the Texas Rangers, in a bid to help the Tigers get through injuries to starting pitchers Spencer Turnbull (right forearm strain, 60-day IL on June 5), Matthew Boyd (left arm discomfort, 10-day injured list on June 15) and Jose Urena (left groin strain, 10-day IL on July 17).

"It's not my first opportunity (to start)," Alexander said Sunday. "I'm hoping that I do well so I can stay in the rotation."

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Tyler Alexander of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins during Game 2 of a doubleheader at Comerica Park in Detroit on July 17, 2021.
Tyler Alexander of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins during Game 2 of a doubleheader at Comerica Park in Detroit on July 17, 2021.

Through 27 games (three of them starts) this season, Alexander has a 4.40 ERA, 10 walks and 37 strikeouts in over 43 innings. In those three starts, the 27-year-old boasts a 3.86 ERA across seven innings. He hasn't pitched beyond the fourth inning as a starter because the Tigers didn't need him to, aiming only to set a strong tone for bullpen-only games.

"It's just taking it day by day," Alexander said. "Pitching is pitching, no matter what inning I come in and no matter if I start or relieve, or in the third inning or a deep inning. I just try to prepare my body to be ready to throw every day. ... The routines are different, but the mentality has to be the same."

But now Alexander's situation has changed. When Urena strained his groin in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader, the Tigers were left with four starting pitchers: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Wily Peralta.

Mize is operating with strict innings limits, Skubal will soon face load management, and Manning only has five MLB games under his belt. Although Peralta is surprising the organization with a 0.34 ERA in his past five starts, the 32-year-old isn't an established big-league starter. (Before June 19, Peralta hadn't started since 2017; he didn't pitch professionally in 2020.)

For those reasons, Alexander will slide in as the fifth starter.

"I hate seeing guys go down, teammates and friends," Alexander said. "It sucks to see them get hurt. Everybody has a good mentality about it, though. They're positive. I'm confident they'll be back. I know Matty will be. Building off that, for me as a long reliever or starter, I'm just ready to step into whatever role I can."

Detroit Tigers' Tyler Alexander pitches in the third inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park, June 13, 2021.
Detroit Tigers' Tyler Alexander pitches in the third inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park, June 13, 2021.

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Alexander has started 13 of his 54 games in his three-year career in the majors, carrying a 4.79 ERA, nine walks and 46 strikeouts across 56⅓ innings in those starts. Still, the Tigers haven't treated him as a full-time starter since the 2019 season.

"The one thing that I love about him is he's not afraid of the strike zone," Hinch said. "He's not afraid of any hitter, right-handed or left-handed."

To soak up Alexander's ready-at-any-moment bullpen role, the Tigers will turn to right-handers Kyle Funkhouser and Erasmo Ramirez and left-hander Derek Holland. All three pitchers can toss multiple innings. Funkhouser in particular has a 2.34 ERA, 14 walks and 30 strikeouts across 34⅔ innings in 25 games (two starts).

"Tyler has been great about (his role in the bullpen)," Hinch said. "Now he gets an opportunity to maybe stretch out and see if he can stick in the rotation for a bit."

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: Why Detroit Tigers added Tyler Alexander to rotation