Tigers Move Kenta Maeda To Bullpen

Tigers righty Kenta Maeda will not make his next scheduled start and will instead move to the bullpen “for the foreseeable future,” manager A.J. Hinch announced to the team’s beat this morning (X link via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com). Maeda is not currently expected to return to the rotation after the All-Star break. The Tigers will make a decision on what to do with that open rotation spot at a later date.

Maeda, 36, has struggled greatly in the first season of a two-year, $24MM deal signed over the winter. It appeared to be a highly reasonable signing at the time, as Maeda had shined over the final four months of the season with the division-rival Twins after returning from a triceps injury. In Maeda’a final 16 starts of the 2023 campaign, he pitched to a 3.36 ERA with an excellent 29% strikeout rate and strong 7% walk rate.

Things have gone the opposite direction in 2024. The longtime Dodgers and Twins righty has started 16 games but tallied just 65 2/3 innings with a grim 7.26 earned run average. His command remains solid (7.9% walk rate), but Maeda’s strikeout rate has plummeted to 17.1% and he’s lost close to a mile per hour off his fastball (averaging just 90.3 mph this season, per Statcast). Most problematically, Maeda has already yielded 15 homers on the year, just two shy of his 2023 total (in 104 1/3 innings) and one shy of his 2022 total (in 106 1/3 innings).

The Tigers’ other offseason rotation addition, righty Jack Flaherty, has enjoyed a brilliant rebound campaign. He and Cy Young candidate Tarik Skubal have formed a dynamic one-two punch atop the Detroit starting staff, and sophomore righty Reese Olson has stepped up to give Hinch three quality options with ERA of 3.30 or less. Former No. 1 pick Casey Mize returned from Tommy John surgery and back surgery to post a solid, if unspectacular 4.23 mark in 16 starts of his own.

That quartet gives the Tigers a quality slate of options in the top four spots, and righty Keider Montero has rattled off consecutive quality starts over the past week-plus. He might be the first up for a look in the fifth spot, but Detroit will likely need another starting option before long. Excellent as Flaherty has been, the Tigers as a whole have underwhelmed at 44-49. That leaves them 14 games out of the AL Central lead and seven back in the AL Wild Card hunt. A trade of Flaherty seems overwhelmingly likely between now and July 30, as the right-hander is playing on a one-year deal and is positioning himself for a potential nine-figure deal in free agency this winter.

The top internal option for the Tigers to take that spot, if and when it becomes necessary, is former first-round pick and top prospect Matt Manning. The 26-year-old has yet to establish himself as a consistent MLB rotation presence, working to a 4.43 ERA over 50 big league starts. That includes a 4.88 mark in five starts (27 2/3 innings) earlier this season. He’s yielded an unsightly 5.03 ERA in Triple-A this year but has far more promising strikeout and walk rates of 24.7% and 8.8%, respectively.

Speculatively speaking, Detroit could move forward with a rotation of Skubal, Olson, Mize, Manning and Montero while hoping that former top-40 pick Ty Madden (8.43 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts) turns things around in Toledo. It’s also feasible that their deadline dealings bring in some other rotation candidates of note. Of course, an ideal scenario would see a sojourn to the bullpen help Maeda rediscover his form, paving the way for him to rejoin the starting staff and create some optimism for better performance in 2025. There’s a long way to go before that’s a consideration right now, however.

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Title: Tigers Move Kenta Maeda To Bullpen
Author: Steve Adams

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