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Michael Lorenzen should get a pass for his first relief appearance

It ain’t easy switching roles midseason

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

WARNING: this article will not be popular. Proceed with caution.





Alright, we’re all good?

Tuesday night marked the first time Michael Lorenzen has come out of the bullpen this season for either the Tigers or the Phillies. Named as part of piggyback rotation option along with Cristopher Sanchez, the goal for both players is to make sure they stay fresh by continually being on schedule while simultaneously trying to manage their innings. It’s a career high total for both pitchers this year, so Rob Thomson wants to make sure he’s doing right by both the team and the player.

Against the Braves on Tuesday, that didn’t happen much.

Lorenzen was only about to record a single out while giving up three hits, three walks and four runs in the appearance, looking like he simply wasn’t ready to get on the mound. It wasn’t exactly the type of appearance that would inspire one to think he’s ready to take on higher leverage innings as the season winds down.

And yet...

I find myself not particularly concerned about his appearance in the game, even as bad as it was. Let me explain.

First of all, at the time Lorenzen was brought into the game, the Braves had Spencer Strider on the mound and it looked like getting hits, let alone scoring runs, was going to be difficult. Nevermind the three run home run Bryce Harper hit off of him, at the point where a decision needed to be made about when to bring in Lorenzen, Strider was near unhittable. Though this Phillies team has been difficult to write off this season, the oft used phrase “feels like a loss” was definitely appropriate. That put Lorenzen into play. A fairly low leverage spot for him to get back to working as a reliever. Would the Phillies have used him with a lead, maybe letting Sanchez go a little further? It’s possible, but we’ll never know.

Second, his actual stuff wasn’t all bad.

There are some reasons to be optimistic. Velocities on his pitches were up across the board outside of his changeup, which actually fell in velocity. That’s not a bad thing, creating more of a separation between that and his fastball. Reaching a peak velocity of 97 miles per hour is something he hasn’t done much of this year, the probably result of being able to let it go a bit more knowing he wouldn’t have to face the lineup two or three more times. Are there negatives? Sure. The lack of whiffs on his pitches is still a big concern with Lorenzen. It’s very difficult in this age to be a reliever without swing and miss stuff, so not having it during this outing is worrisome. The hope is that either the slider or changeup becomes that pitch, but Tuesday night did not showcase that.

Lastly, converting to a reliever from a starter in the middle of a season is no easy thing. The routines Lorenzen has been on were all broken - pregame routines of getting ready prior to the bullpen, getting ready to enter the game with a little more haste. These are the types of things that are much easier to do when you begin the season as a reliever. The routines are different for each kind of pitcher and vacillating back and forth between them takes getting used to. While Lorenzen has probably known for some time that he would be relieving, it’s different when it’s time to put it into actual practice. Getting to face the Braves’ lineup to begin this transition is a tall task. Even the best relievers this year have been pummeled by the players Brian Snitker writes on the lineup card. It was a big ask of Lorenzen in the first place, made doubly hard by the opponent he would see.

Now, this isn’t excusing Lorenzen from his outing. There is no amount of hand waving that can excuse the fact he was quite bad Tuesday night. Discussions about his ultimate spot on a postseason roster were, and should be, called into question. We saw last year that the pitching roster has to be comprised of the best a team has to offer. Particularly in a wild card series, there is no time for anyone to figure it out, let alone a pitcher who is trying to take on a new role.

For this one night, though, I’m willing to give Lorenzen a little more leeway in what his final production line was. It cannot continue though. He needs to be better. Otherwise, he might find himself watching the wild card series as a spectator than a participant.