Predicting Tigers’ 2023 rotation with Casey Mize no longer in picture

DETROIT — When Casey Mize takes the mound in April of 2024, there’s a good chance that he’ll be better than ever.

Tommy John elbow surgery, which Mize will undergo this month, is one of the wonders of modern sports medicine.

And yet by the time Mize is pitching again in the big leagues, the sixth anniversary of his selection as No. 1 overall draft pick will be approaching. And he’ll have pitched fewer than 200 Major League innings.

That wasn’t what the Tigers had hoped to get for their investment. But perhaps it’s what they should have expected.

The Tigers’ 2022 season has been a case study on the perils of relying on starting pitching in an era in which injuries — and major surgeries like Tommy John — are all but inevitable.

It’s also why attempting to predict the 2023 rotation — which we’re going to do in just a moment — is so risky. Yes, the Tigers have sustained an avalanche of injuries over the last two months. But there’s a lot of baseball left to play. Who’s to say they’re done yet?

Even making a preseason prediction in March can be challenging. The 2022 Tigers have proved as much.

Of the five pitchers in the club’s Opening Day rotation, only Tarik Skubal has made it through unscathed. (He’s also been one of the best pitchers in the league).

It was a good bet that Beau Brieske would get a cup of coffee in 2022. Instead, the rookie has the second-most starts on the team (nine). Rookie Alex Faedo isn’t far behind (seven).

Even players a bit more off the radar have been pressed into action: Elvin Rodriguez has made four starts; Rony Garcia will make his fourth start on Monday night.

Given the flood of injuries, the Tigers starting staff has actually done better than expected (with an assist from a bullpen that has been among the best in baseball). The Tigers are 11 games under .500 right now primarily due to a historically bad offense that includes several underperformers.

In fact, if you’re the optimistic sort, you might even say that the Tigers will go into 2023 feeling good about their pitching staff, even after the loss of Casey Mize.

Here’s how the Tigers’ rotation might look in 2023:

1. LHP Tarik Skubal

When catcher Tucker Barnhart said Skubal should be placed in bubble-wrap, he was only half-joking. The Tigers have to keep this guy healthy. He has a 2.71 ERA in 12 starts. In 69 2/3 innings, he has 75 strikeouts and just 12 walks. He’s no longer being tormented by the home run ball. If he keeps it up, he should be at the All-Star game in Los Angeles next month.

2. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

A tweaked rib cage interrupted Rodriguez’s inaugural season with the Tigers after eight starts. It appeared he would be back soon, although we’re currently waiting on the latest medical update from manager A.J. Hinch. He’s under contract through 2026, although he has an opt-out after 2023.

3. RHP Spencer Turnbull

Turnbull should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery by Opening Day. He appeared to be coming into his own as a high-level starter before the injury, which is great cause for optimism about what he can do in 2023. That optimism should be tempered by the fact that he will be 30 years old with only one full season of starts under his belt (in 2019).

4. RHP Matt Manning

Manning has been sidelined by a shoulder injury after two starts this season. Although his rehab has contained some of the same mysteries and uncertain setbacks as Mize’s, we’re talking about a shoulder, not an elbow. Tommy John is not in the picture. Manning has made only 20 career starts and many of them (in 2021) weren’t very good. It would be nice to see Manning return this summer and solidify his spot in the rotation for 2023.

5. RHP Alex Faedo

Faedo is still more evidence that can you bounce back from Tommy John as good as new. After a couple of lost seasons thanks to the pandemic and elbow surgery, Faedo has been really impressive through the first seven starts of his career. How impressive? Elias Sports says Faedo is just the third pitcher since 1893 to throw five or more innings while allowing no more than two runs in each of his first seven starts.

The Tigers will limit his workload this summer because of his surgery and with an eye toward 2023.

6. RHP Beau Brieske

The Tigers have thrown Brieske into the deep end this year, and he’s done more than just stay afloat. He’s shown impressive poise, maturity and fearlessness. He just needs to cut down on the home runs that have ruined many a start. Skubal, his next-locker neighbor, has proven that it can be done.

Next tier: RHP Rony Garcia, LHP Joey Wentz, RHP Elvin Rodriguez

Next next tier: Garrett Hill, Reese Olson, Wilmer Flores

Teams need to count on far more than five or six starting pitchers. Although veterans can be signed on minor-league deals to fill in the gaps, the Tigers do have several intriguing options who will be waiting in the wings.

Rony Garcia has been a surprising bright spot for the Tigers this year. The sample size is limited, so he might yet end up in the bullpen or on waivers, but he’s given them something to think about.

Likewise, Wentz and Elvin Rodriguez have gotten cups of coffee already in 2022 and will probably get more. (Although Went has a neck injury with an uncertain prognosis). It wouldn’t be stunning to see at least one of Hill, Olson and Flores get a look later this summer.

Michael Pineda

Detroit Tigers’ Michael Pineda pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Saturday, May 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Raj Mehta)AP

What about a mystery candidate?

The Tigers could certainly add another free-agent on a moderately priced one-year deal, like they did with Michael Pineda in spring training. But they may have grown exhausted with dabbling in that market.

They paid Julio Teheran $5 million last year to make one start. They’ve also got less-than-satisfactory results from Jose Ureña (2021); Ivan Nova (2020); Matt Moore and Tyson Ross (2019); and Francisco Liriano (2018).

Pineda has a broken finger after making five starts. He may yet come back and have a successful season, but the Tigers’ recent track record doesn’t offer encouragement.

It seems equally dubious that the Tigers will go big with another signing like Eduardo Rodriguez this winter. If the Tigers are throwing money around again — and there’s no guarantee that they will — the needs seem more glaring in the lineup than in the rotation.

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