Why not Kyle Funkhouser for Detroit Tigers? 'He needs to step up'

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kyle Funkhouser has been put on notice.

The Detroit Tigers would like to have Funkhouser in their starting rotation. They want to have Funkhouser pitching at Comerica Park, where they can show off one of the prospects in their first rebuilding wave.

They might even need Funkhouser soon: They have been severely short-handed in the starting rotation for more than a month and left-hander Ryan Carpenter has largely struggled.

When Funkhouser’s name was brought up on Tuesday afternoon as a possibility to step into the Tigers rotation once he builds his pitch count up, manager Ron Gardenhire said, “That’s a good name.”

But, Gardenhire continued, the team hasn’t really went deep into talks about whether the big righty can be an option or not.

“But ultimately, the goal is yes, for him to,” Gardenhire said. “If we can get him pitching and getting people out, yes, we can fill a hole, but he’s gotta do it down there.”

More:Why Kyle Funkhouser stood out during spring training in Lakeland

Funkhouser’s first box has been checked off: In his most recent start at Double-A Erie, he allowed one run on two hits over five innings, with eight strikeouts and one walk.

It was his second consecutive five-inning start, after his first start from returning from the 7-day injured list. According to a scout in attendance at that start, Funkhouser looked fine, with a 95 mph fastball and better slider as the game went on.

But the second box — performing — has not been checked off. Though it’s plausible — if not likely, given his proximity to the major leagues — Funkhouser was dealing with injury issues before he hit the injured list in early May with a right shoulder impingement, he’s posted a 7.18 ERA and 1.93 WHIP in eight starts at Triple-A Toledo.

More on freep.com:

Tigers' bullpen gives up lead to Royals, 3-2

Detroit Tigers mailbag: Matthew Boyd on trading block, or part of future?

His starts in the lower minor leagues are injury rehabilitation starts; now, Funkhouser must do what he’s failed to do this far, in pitching his way to the big leagues.

In theory, the Tigers could use him, for sure. Not only does he have better stuff than players in similar roles and fill a very important need — they are likely to resort to an opener strategy again on Saturday — he also provides some positive optics, of the team’s rebuilding coming to fruition in its first wave.

Though Carpenter has pitched better than he’s been given credit for — he’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in three starts, and gotten completely blown up in three others — Funkhouser is very much a part of the future of the Tigers’ organization.

And in a year which is profiling as the worst of the team’s almost three rebuilding seasons, the future is the only thing that matters. Put more simply, the fans would watch Funkhouser pitch.

That they haven’t been able to yet is part luck, part performance.

Players cannot control injuries: After reaching Toledo late last season, he sustained a season-ending foot injury by stepping on uneven sidewalk; this year, it's the shoulder.

More mailbag:

Detroit Tigers mailbag: When will Riley Greene make it to majors?

But when Funkhouser, 25, has been assumed at full health, he hasn’t performed. And the Tigers are doing the right thing by not rushing him up the ladder as an aspirin to their daily headaches — this is a process, and Funkhouser has yet to pass the “prove it” point.

“That’s why he’s not here now,” Gardenhire said. “Injuries and then performance.

“You know the needs of our team, and he was one of the guys we talked about after spring training, being one of those guys that could help us, but he got hurt and he hasn’t pitched great yet.

“But we’re at the point now where he needs to step up. We’d really like to see him step up and then, he would be a guy that we could use. That’s kind of where we’re at. He’s gotta get up, get it done, and stay healthy.”

Contact Anthony Fenech at afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.