Detroit Tigers: Is it time for Jose Urena to move to the bullpen?
Detroit Tigers starter Jose Urena has now struggled across his last three starts, making a change not only possible but perhaps inevitable
It was another rough outing Thursday night for Detroit Tigers pitcher Jose Urena; whose command continues to perplex him. After a snappy five-pitch inning against the Houston Astros on Thursday night, he ultimately wouldn’t make it out of the fourth; giving up six runs on eight hits and earning the loss.
Urena’s issues compound when he struggles to find the zone. He is fairly predictable anyway, but Astros hitters continued to find themselves in hitter-friendly counts Thursday, which allowed hitters to feast in fastball-friendly positions. Yes–Urena is technically a three-pitch pitcher, but only 16 percent of all his changeups are thrown to right-handed hitters. Likewise, only 23 percent of all Urena’s sliders are thrown to lefties.
This omits the fact that his changeup is less than 4 mph from his sinker on average according to Statcast–less than ideal if the objective is missing bats with the offering. The .304 batting average against his changeup and pedestrian movement profile validates this hypothesis. This is not to say he should ditch his changeup, however. The objective when he was signed was to get him a viable third pitch as it is one of the prerequisites to being a starter. Thus far, though, the changeup has not been that for him.
The purpose of all this background and context is not to stray from the bullpen proposal. It’s more to lend context and communicate that this isn’t some hasty reaction to a bad start. It’s a continued trend for an arm that had some good fortune earlier in the season.
Admittedly, I had questioned publicly if I was wrong about Urena. I lobbied for him in the bullpen to start the season, actually, and when he had his run of four straight seven-inning starts in late April, I wondered if I lost my eye. Obviously, I had gotten caught up in the micro, and hitters eventually figured some things out against him, too.
A move to the bullpen makes a ton of sense. He would not have to worry about utilizing his changeup and could work strictly fastball/slider with his arsenal. A sensible option for AJ Hinch when the Detroit Tigers need a ground ball double play. His sinker with run coupled with his slider would help him to work east-to-west and keep hitters off-balance. Who knows, maybe he finds a mile or two per hour on his fastball as a throw-in benefit, too.
The question, then, becomes one revolved around timing. It is no secret the Detroit Tigers are short on starters with Wily Peralta up and Matt Manning perhaps rushed a bit. Add to that we’ll likely see some level of limitation upcoming for Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Add to that Julio Teheran and Rony Garcia are not likely back any time soon. Add to that we’re likely still a few weeks out from seeing Spencer Turnbull or Matthew Boyd back and, well, they need bodies.
Things are not working for Urena, clearly, and the Detroit Tigers have to decide if their goal is to put their one-year, $3.25 million pitcher in the best position to succeed individually (even if it’s at the expense of a younger player’s development), or try to squeeze the maximum amount of innings out possible. The sensible solution: Urena is averaging three innings per start over his last three starts–might as well spread those three innings across the other five days and put him in a better position to get outs and help the team.