Detroit Tigers' Tyler Alexander won't change formula for first start in 2020 season

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers left-handed pitcher Tyler Alexander has never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

His hat, however, is there right now.

"They asked for the ball, too," Alexander said Monday. "I wanted the ball. I wanted something."

He didn't expect a piece of his attire from an Aug. 2 doubleheader make its way to Cooperstown, New York. The ex-reliever wasn't trying to strike out nine consecutive batters. And, sure, he wanted his chance in the starting rotation this season, but he never demanded it.

Somehow, it all worked out for a content Alexander.

His nine strikeouts in a row set a record for relief pitchers and tied the Tigers and American League records, and his mark was enough for manager Ron Gardenhire to give him a starting nod. He will do so at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday in Comerica Park against the Chicago White Sox.

"I wanted to get to the point where I've earned it," Alexander said. "Where there's a spot open, and they say, 'OK, get in there. Let's see what you can do.' For them to have confidence in me to let me slide in feels very good."

Tigers reliever Tyler Alexander pitches during the fourth inning of the Tigers' 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Reds at Comerica Park on Sunday, August 2, 2020.

He definitely earned it, but the second-round pick from the 2015 draft (No. 65 overall) wants sustainability. In 7⅔ innings across four games, he has a 1.17 ERA and 13 strikeouts (15.3 per nine innings) against one walk.

Alexander's formula, even with moving to the rotation, won't change.

[ Tigers' Tyler Alexander joins starting rotation, forces Daniel Norris to bullpen ]

"I don't know how I struck out nine in a row," he said. "But my goal has always been to get quick outs, early outs, efficient, go as deep as I can. I'm going to pitch to my strengths (weak contact), and that's it."

Of his 13 games last year, Alexander started eight of them. As a starter, he was 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA in 41⅔ innings. In five relief appearances, he gave up eight runs in 12 innings.

Tigers pitcher Tyler Alexander walks off the field after being pulled in the seventh inning of the Tigers' 6-4 win over the Reds on Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Cincinnati.

His slider has improved since then, making a significant jump in its strike swinging rate — from 18.6% in 2019 to 42.9% this year, according to Statcast. And whiffs on his curveball have jumped from 17% to 54.5%.

Right-hander Michael Fulmer said the Tigers are buzzing about what Alexander could become in the rotation.

He got a taste in summer camp, when he had trouble adjusting to Alexander's slider.

"I told him to stop throwing it to me," Fulmer said Sunday. "His stuff is unbelievable. His command is fantastic. ... Just talking to him, he's excited to be in the rotation. He rightfully deserves to be there, and I think it's going to work out for the team."

There's a good chance Alexander uses plenty of that slider Tuesday against the White Sox in a game where Gardenhire would like to see him throw up to 80 pitches. As the 26-year-old lefty gets a chance to start this season, he isn't going to let the moment get the best of him.

That's a tribute to his calm but confident approach.

"I'm glad people seem to think that I've earned it," Alexander said. "And I'm hoping to prove them right."

Jones returns to lineup

JaCoby Jones leads the Tigers in batting average, extra-base hits, RBIs and face-plants.

Center fielder JaCoby Jones swung awkwardly in the third inning of Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and immediately clutched his ribcage. A lengthy conversation with Gardenhire and athletic trainer Doug Teter led to his removal from the game — although, Jones didn't want to exit.

He was diagnosed with left abdominal tightness, which Gardenhire believes originated from a 10th-inning slide into home plate during Friday's contest. But when Jones got to Comerica Park for Monday's series opener, he told his manager to put him in the lineup.

Which is exactly what Gardenhire did.

"We talked about it yesterday, not trying to be a John Wayne type of thing," Gardenhire said. "If you're hurt, you're hurt. If you got something, get in the training room and get it taken care of. He says he's fine. He's been dealing with some nicks here and there like a lot of guys are when you're playing every day, and he says he's fine."

Jones is slashing .333/.395/.744 with four doubles, four home runs and 10 RBIs in 12 games this year.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold