By: Will Burchfield
Brad Ausmus is nothing if not patient with the Tigers’ young pitchers.
They have the stuff, he says. They’re still developing, he says.
It takes a while, he says, to get acclimated at the big-league level.
And he’s right.
When it comes to the likes of Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd, Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen and the much younger Joe Jimenez, there is cause for belief. There is reason for lenience.
“The talent is there, the stuff is there, the work ethic is there for a lot of these young guys,” Ausmus said.
There’s no telling when it all might come together. Two former Tigers pitchers, Robbie Ray and Corey Knebel, are evidence that it pays to be patient. After stumbling through their first few seasons in the bigs, both Ray, 25, and Knebel, 26, made this year’s All-Star Game.
“I think that’s part of the reason you’re very patient in the game of baseball, not only on a seasonal basis but on a career perspective, because that can happen and it happens quite frequently,” said Ausmus.
For young players, pitchers in particular, the lightbulb can flash on for different reasons.
“Either they have to fail, or they have to be in the big-league spotlight for an extended period of time before they’re comfortable, or, a lot of times, especially with pitchers, they just find a new pitch and all of a sudden it makes them turn the corner,” Ausmus said.
Michael Fulmer entered the 2016 season very much an unknown. Then he mastered his changeup and won A.L. Rookie of the Year. Shane Greene came to the Tigers in 2015 as a starter and blossomed a year later as a late-inning reliever.
“Sometimes it just takes a while to find your niche in the game. That’s another aspect of it. Some guys have to find their niche, some guys find a new pitch, some guys need the experience, some guys need to fail and be comfortable failing at this level,” Ausmus said. “That’s why you have to be patient with players and in the game of baseball in general.”
The Tigers’ crop of young hurlers is running out of time. Potential only counts for so much.
On Thursday, Ausmus mentioned Norris, Boyd, Rondon, VerHagan, and, to a lesser extent, Joe Jimenez as pitchers who need to start backing up their talent with actual success.
“At some point, you have to start to perform on a somewhat consistent basis or you get replaced. That’s what major-league sports are,” said Ausmus. “Simple as that.”
Here are their respective numbers.
Career ERA: 4.28
Career WHIP: 1.45
2017 ERA: 5.29
2017 WHIP: 1.67
Career ERA: 5.64
Career WHIP: 1.51
2017 ERA: 5.64
2017 WHIP: 1.69
Career ERA: 4.84
Career WHIP: 1.37
2017 ERA: 9.77
2017 WHIP: 1.85
Career ERA: 5.00
Career WHIP: 1.51
2017 ERA: 7.82
2017 WHIP: 1.58
Career ERA: 17.47
Career WHIP: 2.47
2017 ERA: 17.47
2017 WHIP: 2.47
Aside from Jimenez, there’s been no shortage of opportunities for the aforementioned pitchers. And they’ll all get more of the same down the stretch.
“The big thing now, not really being in the thick of the pennant race, is guys will have opportunities to prove they can do things,” said Ausmus. “Their potential is still there, but there’s gonna be a tipping point eventually where they’re gonna have to either perform or — as happens in baseball — (the organization) find someone else.”
Jimenez, given his age and limited experience, is at the lowest risk of losing his job. Ausmus made that clear. But for Rondon and VerHagen, the reverse figures to be true. And Norris and Boyd are steadily losing slack themselves.
They all have the ability. They’ve proven it at the big-league level. But youth doesn’t last forever and potential rings hollow if it’s not accompanied by success.
“In baseball, I think you have to be a little bit more patient because of the nature of the game,” said Ausmus. “I think I’m pretty patient because I understand it’s a six-month season. But you can’t wait forever.”